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.

19424853_1536247779781430_8429821131782881280_n(1)

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

Daughter of the Burning City: A Review

Hello Readers & Writers,

It has been a while since I posted a review so here I am, reviewing an ARC of Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody. I won this book in a contest hosted by the editor and I am so happy I did.

Note: There will be no major spoilers in this review so feel free to keep reading past this point. 

The cover was a huge hook. It is a lovely shade of purple with circus tents on the bottom and smoke rising into an ominous sky.

What made me want this book was the buzz it received on twitter. The description was right up my alley – a dark YA fantasy book.

20170531_130051.jpg

I liked this book a lot. It follows sixteen year old Sorina, an illusion worker who leads an act like the “freak shows” we have in our world. Each of her illusions possess an odd feature or power. She considers them her family and it was interesting how these bonds were explored as well as how Sorina’s powers work. The descriptions of her powers were absolutely lovely. I pictured them in my head with ease. What I also loved was the Gomorrah Festival and how it had a life of its own. The author did an excellent job of creating a setting that was, at the same time, a character. It gave me vibes of a grittier The Night Circus which I loved.

The main plot is one of Sorina’s illusions, who she believed could not die, is murdered. From there, she launches an investigation while facing obstacles like betrayal, dead ends, false leads, grief and identity. Sorina is not the most active narrator and is easily conflicted, causing a portion of the investigation to be muddled up in her own thoughts and uncertainty. She has to come to terms with who she can trust and if some aspects of the investigation hold merit.

The reason I wouldn’t give this book a five is because it had a few slow chapters, that inch towards the resolution but can act a bit like filler. Once I moved past these however, the journey to the end was a wild ride. I was shocked by the twists and I needed to know who killed Sorina’s illusion and why they would do such a thing by the last few chapters. The ending was worth the parts that dragged.

I think this is a great fantasy story and will draw in those who prefer a bit of dark magic. The main characters are not typical and that is a huge strength of the novel for Amanda creates them as they should be: people. Not freaks or devil spawns as the stereotypes placed on them suggest.

Overall, this gets 4/5 moths from me. You’ll understand this reference once you give it a 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.

20170418_092619

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

Author Sitdown with Jessika Fleck

Hello Readers & Writers,

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessika Fleck, author of The Castaways due out April 3rd, 2017 from Entangled Teen.

Before I kick off the interview, here is a synopsis of The Castaways:

The Castaway Carnival: fun, mysterious, dangerous.

Renowned for its infamous corn maze…and the kids who go missing in it.

When Olive runs into the maze, she wakes up on an isolated and undetectable island where a decades-long war between two factions of rival teens is in full swing.

Trapped, Olive must slowly attempt to win each of her new comrades’ hearts as Will—their mysterious, stoically quiet, and handsome leader—steals hers.

Olive is only sure about one thing: her troop consists of the good guys, and she’ll do whatever it takes to help them win the war and get back home.

Q1: Congratulations on being a debut author. It’s a great accomplishment. How does it feel?

Thank you, Megan! I’m so thrilled to be here at Written Infinities! So, how does it feel to be a debut author…? Surreal, overwhelming, exciting, chaotic, dreamy, and a lot of OMG how did I get here?! Basically, it’s a whole slew of emotions all rolled into one, but I’m mostly grateful and just trying to take it all in.

Q2: What inspired The Castaways?

The Castaways came to me in two parts. The first was about me becoming more and more aware of kids being bullied in schools, especially after a good friend’s daughter endured some serious cruelty at the hands of a group of girls and right under the noses of teachers and administrators and other students. It was heartbreaking and not right.
As I had this sort of bullying narrative playing over TheCastawaysFINAL COVERin my mind, that Halloween, we took our kids to a pumpkin patch. Of course we explored the gigantic corn maze. Now, I’ve always found corn mazes creepy-beautiful. There’s something undeniably majestic and sinister about being trapped in a field of dried out cornstalks surrounded by nothing. As I followed my daughter through the maze, encountering dead ends and turning sharp corners it hit me: what a perfect place to run away AND what if when you ran away, you ended up somewhere else? With that, an early conception of The Castaways was born.

I definitely don’t take it lightly that bullying plays a deep role in this book. I very much thought of my own daughters reading this story as I wrote it, and how they might receive it’s messages, from the more subtle just be to the more blatant finding your strength.  My hope is that kids who read Olive’s story, despite where they might fall on the bully-bullied-observer spectrum, will be inspired to stand up for what’s right and speak up for those with smaller voices.

Q3: Who’s your favorite character in the book and why?

I adore Bug. She’s that secondary character who deserves a whole, entire book for herself. I love her back story and that she’s so wise beyond her years and strong (mentally and physically) as all get out, but still a goofy, sassy kid. She’s basically my hero. I also have some serious hair envy.

Q4: What kind of reactions do you want to see from readers in regards to The Castaways?

In a perfect world, I would love readers to leave the story feeling empowered and entertained and satisfied and with a spark in their hearts to do something good for themselves and for someone else. But at the end of the day, if readers complete The Castaways content that their time reading my words was well spent and if even one person is inspired to do something kind for another, I’ll be happy.

Q5: You’re marooned on a deserted island – what are three things you would want to have on your person?

Coffee, flint (for fire to boil water for said coffee), and the complete Harry Potter collection (What? That totally counts as one thing!).

Q6: Are there any traits that you share with your main character, Olive?

I can definitely relate to the motto Just be. It’s sort of her version of You do you. I’m all for celebrating individuality and following your passions in life and respecting the inner beauty in all of us. Also, like Olive, I’m not a fan of being the center of attention… ::side-eyes calendar as my book launch event nears:: Olive and I share a love for cats. And lasagna.  Also, I’d choose the cool, spritzy Oregon coast over the heat and flatness of Texas all day long (I grew up in Texas).

Q7: What are some things (movies, books, songs etc.) that inspire you to write?

Definitely music. I’m a total sucker for lyrics. I create a playlist unique to each novel I write as well as a Pinterest board. For The Castaways I focused on a mix of music that reminded me of the beach and a sort of surfer vibe with Family of the Year, Jack Johnson, and Vance Joy, along with a folksy feel for Olive’s Texas side from artists like Noah Gundersen and Mumford and Sons, and then to youthful sounds from Alessia Cara to Ed Sheeran to Birdy. I also love finding images and quotes that apply to the story and characters. Here’s the Pin board for The Castaways: https://www.pinterest.com/jessikafleck/the-castaways/ And here’s the Spotify playlist:
https://open.spotify.com/user/1212358948/playlist/4JlRrfkbnWBwoKdoT02eI6

 Q8: Do you have plans for future books?

Yes! Amazing publishing shenanigans are afoot. My YA fantasy, THE OFFERING, is being published by Swoon Reads/Macmillan fall 2018. You can find more on that here: https://swoonreads.com/m/the-offering/ I also recently signed with literary agent Victoria Marini and we have several plans in the works. All in all, it’s a ridiculously exciting time and my writing career is in some very capable hands.

Q9: Summarize The Castaways in three words.

Oh man, this is like asking an artist to paint a picture in three strokes, lol! But, here goes… Self, Strength, and Family. ::wipes sweat from brow::

Author Bio:

Author Pic3_FleckJessika Fleck is an author, unapologetic coffee drinker, and knitter — she sincerely hopes to one day discover a way to do all three at once. Until then, she continues collecting vintage typewriters and hourglasses, dreaming of an Ireland getaway, and convincing her husband they NEED more kittens. Her YA debut, THE CASTAWAYS (Entangled TEEN), releases 4/3/17. Her next YA novel, THE OFFERING (Swoon Reads/Macmillan) is due out in the fall, 2018. Jessika is represented by Victoria Marini of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency.

To keep in touch with Jessika and to learn more about her debut book, see below:
Twitter: @jessikafleck
Instagram: @jessikafleckwriter

Once again, a big thank you to Jessika for joining me today. To see more book related posts on my end, keep an eye on the blog.

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.

20170316_212544

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