ARC Review: Radio Silence

Radio SilenceRadio Silence by Alice Oseman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Release date: March 28, 2017 (for this edition)

Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying.

Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As.

You probably think that they are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and she is a girl.

They don’t. They make a podcast.

In a world determined to shut them up, knock them down, and set them on a cookie cutter life path, Frances and Aled struggle to find their voices over the course of one life-changing year. Will they have the courage to show everyone who they really are? Or will they be met with radio silence?

Radio Silence is a book that should probably be a must-read for teens everywhere – it would speak to them. The premise of the novel is a coming-of-age story about parental and societal expectations, moving forward in life, deciding your options and doing what you love. For me, this hit a bit close to home, and I felt myself connecting to it so much, despite me not being a teen anymore. I don’t know what it exactly was – maybe the plenty of pop culture references, the fact that the podcast, Universe City is like Welcome to Night Vale (which also gets multiple shoutouts in the book), the whole fandom and Tumblr experience so realistic (and of course it would be, since the author is fairly regular and interactive with fans on her Tumblr) – but I couldn’t help but be absorbed but also be there in this world.

Frances always thought that since she is a good student, the only thing for her to do is to continue on to university and job and so on and so forth. Aled is similar in that he is also a great student, but he is not interested in all that. His life is his podcast that he creates, but his mother wants to fit him into her mold. Frances’ mother, on the other hand, gives her daughter every independence and lets her make her own decisions. Despite their vastly different home circumstances, the fact remains that even if they are great students on paper, it doesn’t mean that is what they like doing. As Frances points out, ‘what else is there to do?’, it is about the kids knowing and acknowledging that there is something beyond book smarts.

Sidebar here – The millennial generation has often been brainwashed with the ‘you have to do your best or else you are a failure’ mentality since childhood, and the mounting pressures of getting into the top college/university whether or not you are interested in doing those courses is something that is repetitively discussed but often ignored. Oseman brings up this nicely in the contrasting examples of Frances and Aled – both not meant for traditional academic successes but feeling like that is their only way forward in life; like, all this effort until now has to go somewhere, right?

Also, I loved how the author develops their relationship; they have such a wholesome platonic friendship and it is given such good build-up – more than I’ve seen in romantic relationships in some YA books (including Solitaire, if I may say so). Seriously, we need more books that give equal importance to solid friendship and avoid romantic subplots sometimes. Also I loved this particular quote –

I couldn’t quite believe how much I seriously loved Aled Last, even if it wasn’t in the ideal way that would make it socially acceptable for us to live together until we die.

The book also has some great rep for bisexuality, demi-sexuality and homosexuality, without need for a coming-out arc. Some characters from Solitaire make brief appearances, too, but it is mostly separate from the that book and is largely without continuity.

Now, the only things I disliked about the book was the voice and the pace in the first half. In Solitaire, my main issue was with the pacing and the voice style – here the writing was improved upon that you could connect with the characters, but Frances comes across as much younger (11-12) than the 17 she is posing as. Her narration throughout the first half was like reading a pre-teen’s diary – mindlessly droning on about classes and stuff, and it was only in the second half that I felt the voice changed, and improved. These issues aside, it was otherwise a great book and I would recommend it for all readers, but teens especially.

Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Dark Horse Manga, via Edelweiss.

View all my reviews

ARC Review: Solitaire

SolitaireSolitaire by Alice Oseman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In case you’re wondering, this is not a love story.

My name is Tori Spring. I like to sleep and I like to blog. Last year – before all that stuff with Charlie and before I had to face the harsh realities of A-Levels and university applications and the fact that one day I really will have to start talking to people – I had friends. Things were very different, I guess, but that’s all over now.

Now there’s Solitaire. And Michael Holden.

I don’t know what Solitaire are trying to do, and I don’t care about Michael Holden.

I really don’t.

Victoria ‘Tori’ Spring absolutely hates being in school, being alive in general. She is generally apathetic to everything, and not much gives her any happiness in life. In the new school year, which she thought would drag on just like others, someone starts pranking the school. The pranks escalate until she decides to find out who it is. The main issues that the author circles around are teen depression, eating disorders, friendships and relationships; it is mostly a coming of age story.

Solitaire is a book that left me on the fence about it – on one hand, I loved the writing and the way the author deals realistically with the issues of depression, self-harm, and apathy, while on the other I felt the story itself was very slow and dragged in places. Victoria, while a cheerless protagonist to look through, provides a great example of realistic worldview of someone who is suffering through depression. The plot feels dragged and listless because she is feeling so – it is a good writing style to drive the point home, but absolutely miserable to read with. Moving on, the relationships in the book were raw, and honest – I especially loved the dynamic between Tori and Charlie. And while it says it is not a romance, there is a beautiful slow-burn one happening right through the plot.

Overall, the book is very intelligently constructed and written to that effect, but I felt the end product came out too unconventional. It is different, yes, but it also is not very enjoyable to read. (I know it sounds confusing when I always harp on in my reviews about valuing ingenuity over everything else).

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

View all my reviews

ARC Review: The Hidden Memory of Objects

The Hidden Memory of ObjectsThe Hidden Memory of Objects by Danielle Mages Amato
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Release date: March 21, 2017

Megan Brown’s brother, Tyler, is dead, but the cops are killing him all over again. They say he died of a drug overdose, potentially suicide—something Megan cannot accept. Determined to figure out what happened in the months before Tyler’s death, Megan turns to the things he left behind. After all, she understands the stories objects can tell—at fifteen, she is a gifted collage artist with a flair for creating found-object pieces. However, she now realizes that her artistic talent has developed into something more: she can see memories attached to some of Tyler’s belongings—and those memories reveal a brother she never knew.

Enlisting the help of an artifact detective who shares her ability and specializes in murderabilia—objects tainted by violence or the deaths of their owners—Megan finds herself drawn into a world of painful personal and national memories. Along with a trusted classmate and her brother’s charming friend, she chases down the troubling truth about Tyler across Washington, DC, while reclaiming her own stifled identity with a vengeance.

A contemporary with an element of paranormal, The Hidden Memory of Objects explores how grief, memories and remembrance is tied in with each other. After Megan’s brother dies mysteriously, she is surprised to learn the versions of her brother that she was unaware of. She knew the protective brother, but he was many different things to many different people and trying to figure out that might lead her to how he died. She is also having an identity crisis about herself, because she always listened to her brother and kept her head down and nose out of trouble, but if he was never who he said he was, was she also a fake version of herself?

Conceptually, this novel first appealed to me because of the paranormal element, psychometry. The idea that by touching an object, you can see the memories associated with it. For Megan, this means she can see her brother once more, learn his secrets, learn how he died. But as she keeps on going, she finds out her abilities come with an increasing price. Her friends in this venture are her brother’s friend Nathan and her old one, Eric. Before you say love triangle, I would like you disabuse you of that notion – Eric is very much the comic relief and the light of this book. Honestly, I couldn’t even imagine how Megan, with all her prickly rudeness, could hurt him and not feel bad about it. She is not a likeable character, and it is not in an admirable sense; reading through her was a task of patience, because she keeps making reckless and impulsive decisions and hurting others.

As for the plot, it ties in with Lincoln’s assassination and artifacts associated with it. Megan’s first real break comes through with the help of a box that has his visage on it, and which she saw in her brother’s memories. But somewhere between uncovering her brother’s secrets and investigating his death, she stumbles on a bigger conspiracy. The ending was quite rushed when it came to the consequences of uncovering said conspiracy, but maybe that was okay, since the story’s focus was mainly on her memories of her brother. It is a good book in its entirety, but I still feel it lacked the pull to keep me glued to it. I could not connect to the characters, or feel the danger in the plot. It is a good debut, but with more refinement, could have been stronger.

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

View all my reviews

ARC Review: Creatures of the Night

Creatures of the NightCreatures of the Night by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two of literary comics modern masters present a pair of magical and disturbing stories of strange creatures who are not quite what they seem! In The Price, a mysterious feline engages in a nightly conflict with an unseen, vicious foe. The Daughter of Owls recounts an eerie tale of a beautiful orphan girl who was found clutching an owl pellet–and how those who would do her wrong would face bizarre, unforeseen consequences.

Creatures of the Night collects two short stories – The Price and The Daughter of Owls. The artwork in this graphic novel is certainly the highlight – it is detailed, and the coloring is more elaborate than the flat color scheme we are used to. But it is also a very short book – 50 pages with both stories, so I think it was easier to go into so much detail when it came to artwork.

The Price is the story about a man who adopts stray cats left near his house. One such cat, the Black Cat seems to be always hurt or wounded in some way. Day after day, the cat seems worse in the morning. But when the cat is kept inside and not allowed to go out, terrible things happen to the people of the house. When the man tries to find out where the cat goes at night, he learns how thankful he needs to be to the cat. It is heartbreaking, the story, and something that subverts the superstition around black cats; I loved it for that part.

The next, The Daughter of Owls was probably too simplistic in storyline to really grab my attention. An orphan girl, with an owl pellet in her hand, is ostracized by the members of her village and is placed in the care of a retired nun. Later on, she grows to be an inhumanly beautiful girl who is in danger because of her beauty. The story was too linear and lacked the twist like The Price, which is why I was not so invested in it.

Overall, it is a beautiful bit of artwork to see, as well as a quick read.

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

View all my reviews

ARC Review: Hunted

HuntedHunted by Meagan Spooner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance.

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?

Hunted is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast with elements of slavic folklore in the form of the legendary Firebird. Yeva, aka Beauty, is a skilled hunter, and when her father goes missing on one of his hunts, she sets out to find him. She ends up getting captured by the Beast, who imprisons her so that she can fulfill a task he requires of her. Throughout the book, she considers him her enemy, and vows to seek revenge against him. While training for his task, she starts to understand what he is, and what that means for her mission.

Most Beauty and the Beast retellings have a prince disguised as a beast, but he is still gentle and caring underneath. This Beast is sort of different, in that he is both man and beast – though only appearing as the latter. He has the intellect of a human, but the pragmatic and instinctive nature of a Beast, which constantly puzzles her. At first, she is ready to kill him because she thinks he is just a creature, and which she can collect as a trophy. But soon she realizes that there is a slight human presence underneath, in the way he responds and the emotions he expresses. Still, the fact remains that she considers him her enemy and no kindness of his can erase what grief he caused her.

The storyline neatly follows the plot of the original that everyone is familiar with, but here and there you see hints of slavic folklore being sprinkled in. At first, I thought it would be something related to faery tales, but we get Rusalka, and through Yeva’s childhood stories, about Ivan and the Firebird. Still, she doesn’t realize that she herself is part of a fairytale, and when the time comes to break the curse, she uses her knowledge of her stories to do so. The author spins a nice tale between these two different stories of Beauty and the Beast and Firebird, and combines them very well. Also, the hunting parts of the book, the scenes where Yeva is in the forest, were so well-written I could feel like I was there in that forest with her.

The ending was a little vague with respect to the curse, but I loved the twist the author gave to the two original stories. Well, more to the Firebird one, because that was more dominant towards the end. However, that action picks up in the last 15% of the book, and I felt that the middle lagged a little in terms of pace. Overall, however, it is a good retelling and I would recommend it for fantasy fans!

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

View all my reviews