Starfish: A Review

Hello Readers & Writers,

Today I will be reviewing Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman. I received this book from Simon and Schuster in exchange for an honest review. This will be mostly spoiler free so there is no need to click away.

There are many things I loved about Starfish; it was not afraid to tackle issues such as social anxiety, biracial identity, and unstable family life. I will point out the trigger of sexual abuse as it is a prevalent theme throughout the novel.

The story follows the main protagonist Kiko who is of half-Japanese heritage and is on the verge of finishing high school. She has a plan for herself: get into a New York City art school called Prism and follow her dreams of becoming a painter. Not only that but she will be able to escape her small town life in Nebraska where being Japanese makes her “exotic” and different than those around her.

She lives with her mother and two brothers, her relationships with each of them rather complex. Kiko’s mother constantly criticizes her and puts her desires and dreams at the bottom of her priority list. Kiko and her brothers cohabitate the same space without getting to know each other beyond the surface. Her father divorced her mother and lives with his new wife and recently born twin girls.

When Kiko’s plans for art school fall through, she at the same time reconnects with her old best friend, Jamie, who moved away during childhood. He offers her an escape from her overwhelming, emotionally manipulative mother and the grief of not getting into her dream school.

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This contemporary novel is heavily focused on self-discovery and what it means to grow up, cope with plans that do not always work out, and toys with the idea that blood does not always mean family. What drew me in originally to Starfish was Kiko having social anxiety, something I struggled with for most of my life and still do. I found Kiko’s descriptions were insanely accurate, to the point I had to stop and show them to my friends. Kiko lends a voice to readers who deal with this and not in a way that undermines it. No, this book is very much about accepting social anxiety and realizing it does not make you a bad friend or a bad person. It is just a part of you that you will learn to handle and if you have good friends, they too will put in the effort. You have to do what makes you feel comfortable.

The next topic that drew me in was biracial identity, but more specifically how it impacts Kiko’s self-worth and identity. Kiko’s mother is white and has physical features associated with said identity: blonde hair, light skin, and light eyes. When Kiko looks at her mother, she doesn’t see any of those traits in herself, having taken after her dad who is Japanese. She grapples with the concept of beauty and if it is an agreed upon concept by society, or one that is subjective and ever changing. For teens who struggle with finding themselves and beauty in their features, Kiko offers the perfect narrative for it isn’t a journey that automatically happens. It takes time, tears, and breaking away from negative influences. The journey reads naturally and I found myself rooting for Kiko all throughout the story. I wanted her to radiate self-confidence and I wanted her to understand how beautiful she was. Tying into this idea was cultural identity and how Kiko didn’t have much of a Japanese culture due to her parent’s divorce and her mother’s view on not favoring an Asian lifestyle. In case you didn’t know, you’re going to hate Kiko’s mother, but unfortunately, her ignorant and narcissistic outlook on life is not unique. Other people have it too. However, it is through Kiko’s interactions with her mother that a reader is able to realize certain behaviors are not okay and should never be okay.

Starfish is beautifully written. The prose flows naturally and I love how each chapter ends with a work of art Kiko creates to reflect the events that have happened. Every character feels like a fleshed out, real person and you can’t help getting sucked into this world. I’m not going to forget about Starfish and the impact it had on me. I hugged the book to my chest after finishing it because the ending was such a heartwarming consolation that Kiko deserved. Aside from my perspective, I think this book can be an outlet for teens and offer the message that no one should tear you down or stop you from being who you need to be. If they’re doing that, chances are, you don’t need them in your life. You need to live for yourself and your dreams.

Overall, this book gets 5/5 stars from me and I would highly recommend it. I may wind up throwing it at everyone so it can be read asap!

Xx

Megan

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns: A Review

Hello Readers & Writers,

I got the amazing chance to not only obtain an ARC of Forest of Thousand Lanterns at Book Expo, but meet the author Julie C. Dao. I didn’t know I would read her book first out of my TBR pile, but I’m so glad I did because it’s one of the best I’ve read this year, if not in the recent years.

There will be no major spoilers in this review, so feel free to keep reading.

The plot follows Xifeng, a girl who is stuck under her aunt’s harsh rules and cruelty. She believes, as well as her aunt, that she is destined for a greater life than being a common girl. She has beauty which others are envious of and a dark calling within her chest. When an opportunity arises to run away, Xifeng is swept up with one goal: to become the empress.

Capture

This lovely image, which I think captures the book so well, belongs to Christine Herman. You can find her on twitter: @christineexists

For those of you who don’t know, FOTL follows The Evil Queen from Snow White. But what we get as readers is an East Asian retelling with a wonderful cast of characters, poetry, and culture. I was taken with the world Julie created, not only for its beauty, but for every story she wove into the tale. There were lines in the text that were both haunting and well written. They created an eerie, alluring mood that made me unable to put the book down. If I could highlight each one that stuck with me, most of the book would be in bright yellow highlighter.

Then we have the characters. Xifeng is an anti-hero. I think that is the best way to put it. Julie C. Dao breaks the mold of using a likeable main character. Xifeng is vain, narcissist, and has the potential to bring people to her feet. All of these traits harbor themselves in a young girl who has to choose between light and dark, forces that both rage inside of her. You understand her motivations. You want to know what she is going to do next and which side will ultimately win. Xifeng is a character, that despite her not being the traditional notion of good, you want her to win. I don’t often sympathize with characters as such, but I did here.

The other main characters are equally as alluring. You have Wei who wants Xifeng to choose the goodness in her and is ultimately a huge contrast to her character. You have her aunt, Guma, who has a history she has not yet told Xifeng, but plays on the hungry, ambitious traits of her niece. You have her friends Hideki and Shiro who openly show Xifeng what the right examples of love and affection are, but examples she cannot find within herself. You have the royal cast like Lady Sun and Empress Lihua who bring out different sides of Xifeng that show how well she is playing a game to reach her goal. There is just so much going on with the plot and the characters. It is very much like a game of chess, with constant moves being made. Who will win? The royal family? Xifeng? Or someone else? You’re not quite sure from the beginning nor are you sure until the pieces start to unravel.

When I finished the last chapter, my first thought was when is the second book coming out? My second thought was damn, because that was the only word I could find that encapsulated how much this book brought to the world and how strong this story was.

If anyone is undecided on preordering this book, or picking it up once it hits stores in October 2017, toss your doubts away. This book will capture your attention and stay with you as you read its final words.

It receives 5/5 hearts from me. You’ll understand this reference once you read.

Xx

Megan

Queens of Geek: A Review

Hello Readers & Writers,

Last night I finished Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde and all I can say is this book is both adorable and powerful.

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Taken from my instagram: Written-Infinities.

It follows three friends who go to SupaCon, which is a big gathering of movie, YouTube, and television stars. These friends are moving on to college within a couple of months and this is their way of treating themselves for making it through their education. Not to mention it has been something they wanted to do for a long time as a group. Many events happen at SupaCon, leading to self-discovery, love, and beating back some demons each of them have been holding onto.

This is a dual POV book following the characters Charlie and Taylor. Charlie is a famous YouTube star who had a terrible breakup from her co-star of a recent film, Reese. She is long since over him, but she spent the last few months piecing herself back together and finding out what it means to not be tied together with her ex in the public limelight. She has to deal with fans who want to see her back together with her ex and her entertainment company that wants her to be nice to Reese for publicity. She also identifies as bisexual and there is a fantastic scene in the book where she challenges her ex about sexuality. He asks a question bisexuals get too often: how can you be bisexual when you’re dating a guy?

The answer that Charlie gives, my dear readers, is a good one. There doesn’t need to be proof of bisexuality through dating a woman. Rather, she knew she was bisexual the same way her ex knew he was straight. What I love that the author does is she constantly reinforces there is nothing wrong with being bisexual.  She has also made Charlie a strong character, not afraid of talking about her sexuality, showing her confidence, or noting her mixed race heritage.

The second character, Taylor has anxiety. Throughout this book, I constantly found myself nodding my head in agreement with the descriptions Jen gives about anxiety. Between the fears Taylor has and how she worries how other people will read her anxiety (as her being stuck up or bossy), I too have gone through similar experiences. The portrayal was honest and real and all I wanted was for Taylor to push past her anxiety and find the happiness she deserved. Taylor, an amazing well rounded character, does not only challenge stereotypes about anxiety, but also challenges fat-shaming and misconceptions about being on the spectrum. There is so much to love and learn from Taylor’s chapters as well as so much to connect with.

This isn’t a difficult or long read. It is very much fluff and friendship and feeling good after reading it. Most of the plots are predictable, but I didn’t mind. You have a solid friendship, romances to root for, and wonderful representation. From the second I picked up this book, I went yes, this is what I need to be reading.

Note: The references in the book to all things Geek are A+.

I’m giving it 5/5 SupaCon passes.

Xx

Megan

Defy The Stars: A Review

Hello Readers & Writers,

I was lucky to win an ARC of Defy The Stars by Claudia Gray and my goodness is this book a juicy, mind-tingling sci-fi novel. This will mainly be a spoiler free review so you don’t need to click away.

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Taken from my instagram: Written-Infinites

Defy The Stars is a dual POV book following Noemi, a warrior from the planet Genesis who has signed up for a suicide mission in order to buy her planet time in a war with Earth, and Abel, a one of a kind prototype mech who has started to develop a consciousness beyond its programming. The book opens up with a battle scene, giving an introduction to who Noemi is not only as a fighter but a person. The second chapter moves to Abel who has been trapped for thirty years in an abandoned spaceship. The reader is immediately aware of Abel’s internal changes, stemming from its isolation.

Note: I’m going to refer to Abel as it for now, mainly to indicate Abel is not technically human despite its growing consciousness and also to highlight Noemi’s struggle with classifying what Abel is.

A variety of mechs exists in this story, but they are programmed only to have one job: heal, fight, work, etc. Abel is a unique experiment by the creator of mechs, Burton Mansfield. There are several flashbacks in the story that indicate Abel’s difference from the other mechs – particularly how it learns new information, registers human emotion, and is favored by Mansfield.

When Abel first runs in to Noemi, I won’t say how, its initial orders are overturned by its main programming: protect the nearest human with authority. But just because Abel has its orders doesn’t mean Noemi trusts Abel or vice versa. Claudia Gray plays with the idea of if it’s possible to trust a mech and what it means for Noemi who has been fighting them in the war. There are also several questions raised about what consciousness means, where the line between human and robot is, and what happens when a robot becomes self-aware? After studying philosophy for many years in school, these questions are delightful and ones that are challenged throughout the entirety of the book.

Abel and Noemi go on an interplanetary journey, where Noemi hopes to find a way to stop the Genesis army from sacrificing their lives. While doing so, the pair of them learns about a revolutionary group that has arisen, the nature of Burton Mansfield, how complicated friendship and love are, the extent of mortality, and what can be defined as humanity.

From Abel’s POV, this is extremely interesting for it begins to understand human emotions. It recognizes the development of its neural patterns to if not mimic, feel these emotions. As much as the story is about Noemi’s quest to save her planet, it is also about her reconciling her initial judgments about Abel and the worlds she learned about through Genesis schooling. She sees the universe for what it is and gains information more valuable than any classroom could have taught her. Most importantly, she finds her faith, ironically with the help of a mech.

By the end of Defy The Stars, it’s hard to classify who or what exactly Abel is. From my perspective, I would agree with Noemi’s analysis of a soul being in Abel’s body or at least having a conscious to be more than its programming. The best thing about this book is you experience the growth of both Noemi and Abel – development that is both natural and enticing. You are rooting for them, while at the same time getting taken on a sci-fi adventure with both details and a plot that will keep you interested.

If you haven’t already considered reading this book, do it. It won’t disappoint.

Xx

Megan

 

Blood Rose Rebellion: A Review

Hello Readers & Writers,

I was lucky to receive an advanced copy of Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves. This young adult book is due out March 28th, 2017. This review will be mostly spoiler free so you don’t have to click away.

I was a bit wary when I first began reading because it is set in an old fashioned England –
think ball gowns, suitors, and noble families. These books do not always grasp me, but I kept reading because I was interested in the fantastical elements Rosalyn Eves added to the historical background of her story.

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Taken from my instagram: Written-Infinities

I will say there are a few things that bothered me about the book, mainly the instant inkling that the boys in Anna’s life would be love interests and the trope of one person having abilities not seen in hundreds of years. I wish that Anna experienced the world without romantic interests guiding some of her decisions, but I can also understand her desire to connect with people after having guidelines constantly pressed down on her.

Needless to say, I was swept up in Anna’s narrative, a teenage girl who is deemed barren of magic. This is a sentence that has hung over her head in a variety of ways: through her mother’s less than parental treatment of her, her sister being favored for the grace of her magic, and judgment from society. It is at the beginning of the story, when Anna disrupts her sister’s charm ceremony in order to find a husband, that all of this anger Anna harbors sets itself free.

In order to let the chaos die down, though Anna knows it is a way to get rid of her until she conforms to the expectations of a proper woman, Anna is sent to live with her Grandmama in Hungary. It is there that Anna learns a lot about the world, breaking the teachings that have circulated around her since her youth. She is also forced to grapple with questions of identity, family, and revolution. My favorite question that Anna tackles: what is one willing to sacrifice for change? Can an individual commit to a cause if it means potentially losing those they love and having people come after them?

Anna feels like a teenager, wanting to find her place in the world despite so many people telling her otherwise. She wants love. She wants change, but she also possesses fear of discovering who she might be and what she can do. She can be a bit clumsy at times, naïve at others, but these reactions never feel out of place. It is hard to have an entire world unravel, especially at a young age.

It is not just Anna that makes the story likeable. The other characters do the same. Their personalities are alive on the page and they do not all share the same views as Anna. They challenge where she came from and society as a whole. Gabor is my favorite character, hands down.

There is also the inclusion of Slavic Mythology and a history belonging to 19th century Hungary. I seriously recommend reading the acknowledgements page at the end of the book if you don’t normally. Rosalyn goes into a discussion of history and provides some sources for further reading. She blends history with magic, creating a world that does suck you in. I would say that is what makes Blood Rose Rebellion stand out from the expected and common fantasy novel.

Overall, I would give this book 4/5 charms.

Xx

Megan

This is Our Story: A Review

Hello Readers & Writers,

Let me start off by saying this book had me hooked. I needed to know what happened, which made reading it on the commute to work very stressful. It was the kind of book that constantly tugged at my mind, drawing me towards it. I wound up having to come home and read the rest of it so I could unravel the mystery.

20170218_124756The story opens up with the death of Grant Perkins. He was out hunting with four of his friends, also known as The River Point Boys. All of them were either high or drunk and no charges have been able to be placed on either one of the boys. Being from a small town, the death of a teenager makes front page news. It draws protesters, obsessed fanatics, and deals being made behind closed doors. Throw in families with wealthy business ties and the case moves further away from being solved.

There are two point of views: the main character Kate who works for the law office that gets the Perkins case and one of The River Point Boys. You don’t know the POV of the latter until the end. Together, these perspectives create an immensely engaging story. On the one hand, you have Kate who gets herself heavily wrapped up in the murder case, desperate to find out who killed Grant Perkins – a boy who she believed to be falling for. On the other hand, you have a River Point Boy who wants to prevent the bond between his friends from severing. He also wants to make sure none of them go to jail. His goals shift as the plot thickens and his relationships are put to the test.

I haven’t read a thriller in a long time and Ashley Elston did a great job of creating tension and reward. Just when you as the reader think you may have solved the puzzle, she throws another curve-ball at you. Each of The River Point Boys have their own secrets that shatter initial thoughts about them. They become strangers in a way the mystery does.

The writing style wasn’t over the top or littered with imagery in the way some of the other books I reviewed are. Note: this is not a bad thing; I’m merely noting difference in author style and creativity. Elston utilizes a straight forward style that works with the plot. It guides you from point A to point B and so on until we reach the end.

Lastly, I enjoyed Kate as a main character. I like that most of the story is told from her perspective. We don’t get inside The River Point Boys’ heads and know everything right away. We get bits and pieces that change and get disproved. We get pieces that don’t make sense. We get glimpses of humanity within these boys. We learn an insane amount about them through the evidence used in the case and Kate’s interpretation of the evidence. Elston creates a duality between real life and personas – who The River Point Boys actually are versus how they act in order to avoid trouble. It is only through Kate that we could have had this opportunity. It allows us as readers to call into question behavior and what people do when they think no one is watching. It also shows us how desperate some people will be to cover up their mistakes.

Overall, if you’re looking for an edge of your seat read, this is it.

I’m giving it 5/5 photographs.

Xx

Megan

Caraval: A Review

Hello Readers & Writers,

Caraval by Stephanie Garber was one of the most anticipated and talked about books of 2017. I remember it circulating around Twitter and how it was on nearly every list of upcoming books to read. Having just finished it, I wanted to discuss it in a mostly spoiler free review.

The book follows Scarlett, a woman whose arranged marriage is closely approaching. She
has been confined to the Isle of Trisda with her sister Tella at the hands of an abusive and controlling father. A letter arriving from Legend, the leader of this well known fantastical event called Caraval, invites Scarlett, her fiance and her sister to where they will be holding their next performance. It is all Scarlett has dreamed about as a girl, having written letters to Legend for most of her childhood. Now that she has given up on the dream and is on the verge of adulthood, the letters disrupt her perfectly laid out plan.

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Taken from my instagram, Written-Infinities

It is because of her impulsive sister and an unknown sailor that Scarlett is brought to Caraval. Not everything is what it seems in Caraval despite it promising magic, fun, and something that will never be forgotten. Once admitted, a guest can either choose to be a player or a watcher. Those who play have a chance at winning a prize from Legend himself. The decision to play is one that Scarlett does not make lightly and its from there the thick of the plot takes place.

I’m going to briefly mention my only negative of the book and that is Scarlett prior to her growth in the story. She is a character who is afraid of taking risks and constantly tries to uphold all the rules that made her a prisoner in her life. It can be a bit excessive and it made me not like Scarlett at first. I wanted her, as a reader, to push past her fears and do something instead of her internal thoughts being filled with the same worries over and over again. She does break away from this, which makes her narration a pleasant read, but I kept wanting to shake her. I wanted her to listen to those around her who were trying to help her do what she needed to do.

Moving past that, I was entranced by Caraval. I can’t say with a hundred percent certainty I would want to be a guest at the show, but I definitely loved reading about it. Stephanie Garber did a great job of heightening sensual perceptions in order to create the magic of Caraval. Characters feel in colors, take in people by their scents, see things with a sense of wonder. Her descriptions made me smile and I think she not only captured Caraval for the story, but she made sure her readers could picture everything too. I’m a sucker for descriptions and there was a balance between too much and not enough.

As much as this is a Fantasy story, it is also a mystery. Scarlett has to decipher a series of clues in order to get her sister back. She was stolen from her upon arriving at Caraval. You are as much of a reader as you are a detective trying to figure out what happened to Tella. Through this journey, Scarlett discovers a lot about herself and how the views she once held weren’t the best.

I enjoyed the twists that were thrown into the story, how I wasn’t sure who to trust and who Legend really was. Every time something appeared to be figured out, Stephanie Garber went, “Nope, here is a new twist.” This uncertainty is only added onto by the secondary characters who promise and offer help to Scarlett in exchange for payment. Only once is payment in this story money.

This story gave me similar feelings of awe as The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern did. I was taken to a world very different from my own and nearly everything was given a splash of magic and life. By the last two sections of the book – it is split up based on which night it is in Caraval – I couldn’t put the book down. I needed to know what happened.

Overall, I felt as if Caraval lived up to its expectations and if you haven’t picked up a copy, I suggest doing so.

It gets 4.5/5 top hats from me.

Xx

Megan