ARC Review: The Outliers

The Outliers
The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It all starts with a text: Please, Wylie, I need your help. Wylie hasn’t heard from Cassie in over a week, not since their last fight. But that doesn’t matter. Cassie’s in trouble, so Wylie decides to do what she has done so many times before: save her best friend from herself.

This time it’s different, though. Instead of telling Wylie where she is, Cassie sends cryptic clues. And instead of having Wylie come by herself, Jasper shows up saying Cassie sent him to help. Trusting the guy who sent Cassie off the rails doesn’t feel right, but Wylie has no choice but to ignore her gut instinct and go with him.

But figuring out where Cassie is goes from difficult to dangerous, fast. As Wylie and Jasper head farther and farther north into the dense woods of Maine, Wylie struggles to control her growing sense that something is really wrong. What isn’t Cassie telling them? And could finding her be only the beginning?

The Outliers starts off with a thriller chase plot, then turns into a conspiracy – all of which was coupled with great visual scenes and an overall aura of urgency. Wylie, an agoraphobic, sets out to search for her best friend when she receives a distressing message, along with said best friend’s boyfriend, whom she doesn’t entirely like. Over the course of the chase, which starts from slight worry over a bender to the fear of kidnapping, the pair have to go under the radar. Then they are caught in a web, which doesn’t become apparent immediately; well, Wylie is the one anxious and paranoid enough to notice things, which keeps them out of danger for most of the time.

The second half is mostly unraveling of the trap they are in, part of which relates to flashbacks that are interspersed throughout the texts. I did pick up some clues, but otherwise, this was a hard one to crack. I loved how the author kept the sense of danger alive – it was very visual, this novel; I could imagine the scenes playing out in my head. The creepiness, the chase, the dread and the suspicion – they all play out well. The climax was a bit unexpected, and it felt a little out of place with the plot and with Wylie as a character, like it was trying too hard to explain away some things. But the ending – well, that was a good cliffhanger; I want that second book already!

Received a free galley from HarperCollins, via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.

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ARC Review: Unforgivable

Unforgivable
Unforgivable by Amy Reed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unforgivable takes off where Invincible left us—with Evie drowning in San Francisco Bay. Marcus finds her just in time, but her survival is not the happy ending he was hoping for. Forbidden from seeing Evie by her parents and unable to reach her, Marcus learns of a pain that might break him completely.

Marcus spirals into an even deeper darkness and is forced by new events to face the demons of his past. The pain of losing Evie becomes tangled with the loss of his mother and brother, and he must finally face the ghosts he has been trying so desperately to outrun or risk losing Evie forever.

In Invincible, a broken Evie had met Marcus and they began a relationship that became all-consuming. She found in him a reason to live, and now we get his reason for her to be his salvation. The story of Unforgivable is told in the past, present and a direct voice from Marcus to her, but it is mostly about his past and explains his mental state before and while he was with her. He saw the brother he adored from childhood waste away to nothing, and then he sees it happen to Evie. He has been mostly ignored by his parents, and now in the aftermath of him saving Evie and yet not being able to see her, he is more alone than ever. He was broken by his love for his brother before, and it is happening to him all over again with her.

For her part, she met him at a low point in her life, that is clear. The girl she was then – he doesn’t know if it was truly her, whether she really loved him, whether what they had was real – all these doubts are sending him down a dark path. He is reliving his past, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience to live through. Ultimately, it is about him learning how to heal, and how to let go, and realizing that sometimes people will make their own decisions, no matter what you do. It is a process of catharsis that this book is leading to, making it more of a companion novel than a true sequel. The author wrote wonderfully about him, and his troubles, his depression, and presented both sides of a story that is so complicated. I do feel that this book was spent in superfluous words, and at times, I was tempted to leave it and return some other time, which is why I was more on the fence between 3 and 4 stars. Overall, a well-written emotionally charged book.

Trigger warning: Addiction, self-harm

Previous book in series

Invincible

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ARC Review: Invincible

Invincible
Invincible by Amy Reed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Evie is living on borrowed time. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer several months ago and told that by now she’d be dead. Evie is grateful for every extra day that she gets, but she knows that soon this disease will kill her. Until, miraculously, she may have a second chance to live.

All Evie had wanted was her life back, but now that she has it, she feels like there’s no place for her in it—at least, not for the girl she is now. Her friends and her parents still see her as Cancer Girl, and her boyfriend’s constant, doting attention is suddenly nothing short of suffocating.

Then Evie meets Marcus. She knows that he’s trouble, but she can’t help falling for him. Being near him makes her feel truly, fully alive. It’s better than a drug. His kiss makes her feel invincible—but she may be at the beginning of the biggest free fall of her life.

Invincible is the story of Evie, a cancer survivor whose life is in a downward spiral. While in the cancer ward, Evie had two best friends. They had a bond, something which wouldn’t form in the normal world, but thrived in that terminal place. The novel is divided into two parts – one before a death, and one after. Evie, in the after, achieves a miraculous recovery; this is after she had made peace with the fact of dying. Now, she doesn’t know what to do with this life, as well as her guilt for the other life that was taken. She starts acting out, develops a prescription drug addiction, and even then she can’t find peace. Finding Marcus gives her some measure of happiness, but she is constantly searching for reasons to live.

The fact with the book is, it started off really good. There is Evie, a girl who is sick and whose universe is now people who are dealing with the fact that she is sick. When she recovers, people are still treating her like she is made of glass. She abhors this, and on meeting Marcus, who knows nothing about her past, she finds within her a new girl who is brave and bold. But her problem lies in the fact that she feels guilty for being alive. I found that the author brought out this quite well – the despair, the loneliness, the emptiness, the hollowness that comes with not meeting expectations. But about two-thirds of the book, I was getting worn out by her spiral – once she wants people to care, then she doesn’t want them to care. It was like her characterization wasn’t set properly.

Then comes the fact that it is depressing, like, really depressing. I couldn’t stand to be in the head of a girl so dead set on ruining her own life, and pitying herself for it (though this is a fact that we all humans do so frequently) – probably because it sometimes hits too close to home. But the final nail in the coffin was that ending – which was set up so obviously for a sequel, that there was no completion in it. There was no resolution, even for a two-part story, and that bugged me a lot. Yes, she does make a decision, but she had been making and remaking that decision over and over again. It got repetitive by the end, and by that time any empathy I had was lost. In short, I think it started off strong but got lost in the middle.

Received a free galley from Katherine Tegen Books, via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.

Trigger warning: Self-harm

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Review: Heir to the Sky

Heir to the Sky
Heir to the Sky by Amanda Sun
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As heir to a kingdom of floating continents, Kali has spent her life bound by limits—by her duties as a member of the royal family; by a forced betrothal to the son of a nobleman; and by the edge of the only world she’s ever known—a small island hovering above a monster-ridden earth, long since uninhabited by humans. She is the Eternal Flame of Hope for what’s left of mankind, the wick and the wax burning in service for her people, and for their revered Phoenix, whose magic keeps them aloft.

When Kali falls off the edge of her kingdom and miraculously survives, she is shocked to discover there are still humans on the earth. Determined to get home, Kali entrusts a rugged monster-hunter named Griffin to guide her across a world overrun by chimera, storm dragons, basilisks, and other terrifying beasts. But the more time she spends on earth, the more dark truths she begins to uncover about her home in the sky, and the more resolute she is to start burning for herself.

You know, for that blurb, I expected much more of an adventure from this book than I actually got. Even letting go for the fact that it is a standalone, I was expecting much more development from this book. Kali is a princess of a floating kingdom in the sky, said to been held aloft by the magic of a phoenix. The earth below is overrun by monsters of every kind, and when she falls off her kingdom, it is a BIG change for her. For one, there are creatures about to eat her at every turn, and then there is the fact that she doesn’t exactly have a way to get back. When Griffin enters the scene, it becomes obvious that there are humans on Earth, too, not just on the floating kingdom. As the lies she’s been told come apart, a conspiracy is revealed that makes her even more determined to get back.

Kali is a strong girl who adapts quickly to the situtation – a thing that saved her life down there. For her entire life, she has been doing what was expected of her, even if she would rather just watch over her kingdom from a lonely high outcropping. Griffin, for his part, is very good-natured, bright (despite his painful past and the terrible existence of a world overrun with monsters) and well, that’s all I got of him. The book is terribly short, and though it is filled with excitement, adventure and some great action scenes of monster-slaying, in the end, though, I felt it was missing substance. The backstory and canon of the world was poorly explained – like how the Rendering happened, the Benus, that generator thingy, the two (?) moons and the ending was also a bit anti-climactic. It sounded more complex in plot than in execution, and this is why I was let down.

Overall, I found it innovative in conception but wasn’t rendered properly enough.

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Review: Lady Midnight

Lady Midnight
Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s been five years since the events of City of Heavenly Fire that brought the Shadowhunters to the brink of oblivion. Emma Carstairs is no longer a child in mourning, but a young woman bent on discovering what killed her parents and avenging her losses. Together with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches across Los Angeles, from the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica. If only her heart didn’t lead her in treacherous directions…

Making things even more complicated, Julian’s brother Mark—who was captured by the faeries five years ago—has been returned as a bargaining chip. The faeries are desperate to find out who is murdering their kind—and they need the Shadowhunters’ help to do it. But time works differently in faerie, so Mark has barely aged and doesn’t recognize his family. Can he ever truly return to them? Will the faeries really allow it?

The events for Lady Midnight had been in part, already structured since City of Heavenly Fire. Emma’s parents were one of the casualties of the Dark War, but she does not believe it so. Now, similar murders are happening, and it is up to the Los Angeles Institute to figure it out, without the knowledge of the Clave. Actually, pretty much a lot of what happens is without the knowledge of the Clave, which is usual for a Shadowhunters novel. But this book is, as always, more about the character arcs, and we get about four main POVs through Emma, Julian, Cristina and Mark.

Emma is the Jace Herondale of this series, meaning that she is reckless, snarky and gloriously blonde. She is holding on to vengeance for her parent’s death and that is the thing that keeps her going to achieve Jace-level glory. Julian’s family is like hers but she still keeps things at a slight distance, and there is a part of her that relishes the freedom of not being anyone. Julian, her parabatai, is perhaps the saddest character in the entire Shadowhunter universe. He had agreed to become her parabatai because he wanted them to stay together, but now his feelings for her are a torment to him. He also has had to grow up since 12 years of age, to become a father to his siblings and a proxy Head of the Institute. Much of his arc is him being burdened with responsibility, him resenting the Clave for taking away his older siblings and leaving him to this fate. He loves his siblings, yes, but he also has no freedom to be a boy, and that is incredibly sad.

Cristina, a new addition to the Institute and a transfer from Mexico, becomes Emma’s best friend quickly and I loved the way these two loved each other. She is running from a broken heart and Mark and she connect in a way he cannot with his family. Mark, for his part, is torn in two – his years in the Wild Hunt left him bereft of normality and now he doesn’t know how to live with his grown-up family. He also left behind someone he loved and that is in part, a reason for him to go back; but he loves his family too, including Emma. Love is a big theme in this series – particularly, the different kinds of love, which plays a big part, because parabatai can’t be in love with each other, and there are two big reveals at the end, both of which have so much potential ahead.

In a big part, I am thankful that the nature of the series hasn’t changed; it is all adventure and heartbreak and humor, some betrayal is also involved (which reeks of TMI, if you know what I mean). As for characters, I loved them all – how they were fleshed out so beautifully, how every wild impulse and every loving moment was translated into words. The characters themselves are rendered in shades, with their flaws and their goodness all making for a good development. There was perhaps only one thing I found wrong – I found it a bit unbelievable that the whole of Los Angeles Institute constituted of only two adult Shadowhunters. Like, Julian covered up, but like they went under the radar for five years? Stretches my imagination, if you ask me. But otherwise, this is such a great start to the series and I am eager for what is to come. Bring it, Lord Shadows!

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