Reader Reaction: Chainbreaker

Reader Reaction: Chainbreaker

Title: Chainbreaker
Series
Author: Tara Sim
Released: 2 January 2018
Favorite quote: (Because this hasn’t been released yet, I’m not posting a favorite quote.)
goodreads

I’ve been sitting on this reader reaction for a couple weeks because I wanted to post it right before its release tomorrow/today (depending on where you are in the world).  I requested the ARC from Sky Pony Press and was given an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

I’ll start by giving you a bit of my background with Timekeeper (which was a 5/5 stars for me): I asked for the book for Christmas (2016) because I saw that it was a Steampunk LGBTQ story with a neat cover. That’s basically it. I had low expectations entering because I hadn’t heard much about it other than what I just wrote above. When I was given the book, I devoured it. It was one of those stories that kept me on the edge of my seat until the very end. Chainbreaker was no different.

This review will be less focused on specific points from the novel to avoid spoilers. Instead, the majority will be based on my reactions to the characters, plot, and the ending (which will not give anything away, but it will offer a general mood and my feelings about the ending, so if you would like to skip, stop at the sentence “A bajillion times yes!” halfway through the 4th paragraph).

Goodreads Synopsis:
“Clock mechanic Danny Hart knows he’s being watched. But by whom, or what, remains a mystery. To make matters worse, clock towers have begun falling in India, though time hasn’t Stopped yet. He’d hoped after reuniting with his father and exploring his relationship with Colton, he’d have some time to settle into his new life. Instead, he’s asked to investigate the attacks.

After inspecting some of the fallen Indian towers, he realizes the British occupation may be sparking more than just attacks. And as Danny and Colton unravel more secrets about their past, they find themselves on a dark and dangerous path–one from which they may never return.”

Although it was the Danny/Colton story that I fell in love with in Timekeeper, it was the solo-Colton and solo-Daphne storylines that kept me hooked to Chainbreaker. To be completely honest, I wasn’t fond of Daphne in Timekeeper. I don’t know if that’s something that Tara Sim had intended before focusing in on her in the sequel or not, but it was a phenomenal shift for me.

When Daphne and Danny are sent to India as two promising clock mechanics to help solve the mystery behind attacks and their consequences, Daphne’s mixed British/Indian identity becomes a focal point of the story. While this wasn’t a huge point in Timekeeper, it becomes a huge part of this novel and probably the part of the novel that I was most intrigued by. Because of Daphne, Tara Sim claims Chainbreaker an #ownvoices story. Recently, a Kirkus reviewer claimed that “mixed-race Daphne’s character does not develop much, despite the fact that her late father had a white English father and an Indian mother and that Daphne’s trip to India plunges her into speculation about her heritage and identity…” Apparently there were a couple details that weren’t entirely in line with the Indian setting, but this in no way affected my reading of it. Granted, I’m not as familiar with Indian culture as I’d like to be, but considering that Daphne is an #ownvoices character, I really think that this is one of the few times I’ll freely write that I do not suggest reading major reviews on this novel before reading it. The critical conversation surrounding race and diverse characters/authors is wildly interesting and vital to all readers, but lately, I think (not that my opinion is worth much) that the overall conversation is steering in a direction that is excluding too many valid characters and writers, especially those that are #ownvoices.

While I loved both the characters and plot in Timekeeper, the plot did fall a bit flat for me in comparison until the very end. The characters, though? They all had me wrapped around their fictional fingers the entirety of the novel. Timekeeper was equally plot and character driven; Chainbreaker felt more driven by characters and opinions. There are definite opinions that serve as foundation for this novel, and while that isn’t for everyone, I loved it. I love that I know what the speaker/writer is passionate about (i.e. equal rights, gun control, etc.). No, maybe not everyone agrees with these opinions, but that doesn’t detract from the power of giving these thoughts to characters in a time when the masses vehemently disagree. That alone gives the story a new level of emotion: we follow characters who may be scared to death of the consequences of following their hearts and who have a much more modern sense of “right” and “wrong.” Of course, these novels are modern, but when I was completely immersed in the story, I didn’t think of it like that. It was just characters fighting for what they believed in decades ahead of their time.

Why did the plot fall flat for me then (until the end)? That’s not something that I like to say without offering an explanation for what may otherwise seem a harsh opinion. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the plot, but I felt like the plot in this novel was created to advance the characters rather than the actual clock tower story. It did advance the clock tower story! It did but in a way that tied back so closely to the characters that it felt more pre-destined than chance. I guess what I’m saying with this is that it’s entirely up to reader preference on this point. Did I enjoy the plot? Yes. Was it as great as Timekeeper‘s? No, not in my opinion. BUT! Was the end of Chainbreaker wildly more exciting and informative than Timekeeper? A bajillion times yes! [I’ll try to be spoiler free in this next sentence, even though it’s going to be hard…] I don’t know how my opinion on the plot while reading managed to do a complete 180 within a couple chapters, but the realization about why certain things were happening to a certain character (that I had thought were entirely developing that character) transformed into another thick-ass layer of amazing plot that changed EVERYTHING ABOUT THE FREAKIN’ WORLD IN THE SERIES!

And what does Tara Sim do after this life changing and horrific/spectacular realization?

She ends the fucking book.

Pardon my swearing, but I don’t think you’ll understand my emotions until you read Chainbreaker. I’m both incredibly excited about this change (as well as other major changes that occurred but that were not nearly as unsettling) and what it means for the entire world and incredibly shocked. I’m shocked… That’s a great way to put it. I’m shocked that this is what the entire world was like the entire time. Once you read it, there’s no going back. My entire perception of the whole world in the Timekeeper series has shifted to something dark. The series became dark. That added layer of plot is a damn storm cloud that made home over a once mostly-sunny place.

I don’t know what Tara Sim will do in her next novel. I have no clue, but I do know that whatever it is, it’s going to be utterly perfect and devastating.

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Reader Reaction: The Library of Fates

Reader Reaction: The Library of Fates

Title: The Library of Fates
Stand Alone
Author: Aditi Khorana
Released: 18 July 2017
Favorite quote: “Far out in the distance, snow covering the mountaintops glistened like a gilded scrim sparkling in the early evening light.”
goodreads

This novel just popped up on my goodreads wall one day because a friend had added it to their list. Fantasy, myth, romance… What’s not to love? When it came out, my brother went and bought it for me out of the goodness of his heart.

Very quickly, let me just say that it’s impossible for me to choose a single favorite quote from this book, so the one listed is just one of the many that I love. Why? Because every line of The Library of Fates was crafted with such care and detail that the words on the pages turn into striking paintings with ease.

This is just a pretty book. Maybe that sounds childish, but you’ll understand when you read it. It’s just pretty. All of it.

For the first ten or so chapters, I really thought that this was an “Aladdin” retelling, so something similar. Online, however, no one seemed to think the same, and I kept wondering why. Well, after continuing on, I realized that it was nothing like it. There are similarities to familiar stories in the beginning, but that changes drastically as it progresses. So would I still consider this a retelling? Absolutely not.

It’s original. I haven’t read much about other cultures, though I’ve tried desperately to more recently. That being said, it was an original novel to me. It wasn’t something that I could easily tie to a hundred other books in a matter of moments. Instead, it dripped of originality and grace and beauty and power and faith and thousands of other descriptions that fit it perfectly. Sure, all of these things can be applied to thousands of other books with the same hero-on-journey plot, but it’s the way in which it was written that makes the story come to life!

I recommend it. No qualifying that statement necessary. I recommend it to anyone and everyone.

Reader Reaction: Amid Stars and Darkness

Reader Reaction: Amid Stars and Darkness

Title: Amid Stars and Darkness
Series
Author: Chani Lynn Feener
Released: 18 July 2017
Favorite quote: “’Do we?’” [I know this is super boring but I flipped at this line, so if you read it, you might understand why.]
goodreads

This was one of the August reads for a book club that I’m in. I’m not sure if I wouldn’t read it otherwise, even though it sounds like something that I’d pick up for myself. Actually, here’s the synopsis:

Delaney’s entire world is thrown into chaos after she is mistaken for Lissa Olena, an alien princess hiding out on Earth in order to escape an arranged marriage.

Kidnapped by the princess’s head bodyguard, Ruckus, and imprisoned in an alien palace, Delaney is forced to impersonate the princess until Olena can be found. If she fails, it will lead to an alien war and the eventual enslavement of the entire human race.

No pressure or anything.

Factor in Trystan, the princess’s terrifying betrothed who is intent on unraveling all her secrets, and her own growing feelings for Ruckus, and Delaney is in way over her head.

This is one of those books that I’m conflicted about when it comes to saying whether or not I liked it, and here’s why:
1) I felt like the secondary characters weren’t well-developed.
2) It followed overdone tropes that even though I love, I get a little tired of. But again, I love them, so… That isn’t exactly a negative. It’s more a neutral point for consideration.
3) The language bothered me a bit. I don’t know why, but it’s just a personal irritation of mine when the language is too casual in books, even modern YA. That’s definitely not going to be the case for everyone, though.

That being said, I LOVED the story! I couldn’t get enough of it. I started two nights ago just to see what the first chapter was like. Really, I wasn’t that taken in (but it’s only the first chapter, so that isn’t saying anything bad about the book since it’s hard to get hooked by one chapter sometimes). Last night, though, I got into bed with it and didn’t put it down until I finished the epilogue. The story is amazing. So what if some of the plot points are overdone when this was done beautifully? Modern, extraterrestrial sci-fi? Yes, please! Really, it was great. I devoured it and then freaked out when I realized that it’s the first in a series.

One more year to wait until its sequel’s release…

Do I recommend it? Yes. Definitely. It’s a quick, thrilling read that had be internally flipping out for the majority of the night. There were issues with the beginning that really had me questioning whether or not I’d decide to finish (because I absolutely hate when writers do one particular thing and she did that one particular thing for seemingly no reason), but later, it had a reason and I completely understood it (though it still bothers me that it was there). But I won’t go into that because my pet-peeves aren’t your pet-peeves and this was a wonderful, exhilarating read that I think any lover of young adult sci-fi romance would love.

Reader Reaction: Flame in the Mist

Reader Reaction: Flame in the Mist

Title: Flame in the Mist
Series
Author: Renee Ahdieh
Released: 16 May 2017
Favorite quote: “I think it’s remarkably easy to provoke certain reactions from you.”
goodreads

Retellings are just about my favorite books to read, so I internally freaked out when I heard that Flame in the Mist was going to be a retelling of Mulan. That combined with the story being set in feudal Japan was all that I needed to want to pick up this book.

The first half of the book lagged terribly for me. If it wasn’t one of my most anticipated reads of 2017, I definitely wouldn’t have finished it in two days. However, I’d heard so many great things about it that I did force myself to push through that first half. After that, it got a lot more interesting.

The plot (at least in this first book) is minimal. There doesn’t seem to be anything intricate going on in the sidelines yet, which is disappointing, but I’m hoping that that will change in the next book.

The characters are captivating, at least. The setting and descriptions are gorgeous, though! If for nothing else, read it for the settings.

I do recommend this, but it hasn’t been even close to one of my favorites of 2017 so far.

Reader Reaction: Eliza and Her Monsters

Reader Reaction: Eliza and Her Monsters

Title: Eliza and Her Monsters
Stand Alone
Author: Francesca Zappia
Released: 30 May 2017
Favorite quote: “You found me in a constellation.”
goodreads

So I’d pre-ordered Eliza and Her Monsters back in February (when I still thought it was fine to spend all of my money on books instead of, I dunno, food and gas?) because it sounded like a really awesome story that I could relate to in some small areas (like being a part of an online community and having people that I talk to online and creating things, etc.). Let me tell you right now that if you like Fangirl, you’re going to love this book because it’s like Fangirl on crack. Now to go into a semi-spoiler free reaction. I don’t give away anything major, but I do talk about the book, so be warned if you’re super sensitive to spoilers. But again, I don’t go into detail about plot or anything like that.

I am amazed by how much I love this book. After finishing one read yesterday afternoon, I still wasn’t ready to start Empire of Storms so instead, I thought “Why don’t I pick up that new modern contemporary stand alone?” A little after 3 am this morning, I finished reading it. There were actual tears running down my face.

Eliza is the creator of an insanely popular webcomic (that is obviously online). I know it’s unfair to compare to Fangirl, but I’m going to for just a minute, and it will surprisingly be in Eliza’s favor. Cath had her issues: there were times when I wanted to shake her for being so closed-off from the rest of the world that she didn’t understand even the most obvious of things. As much as Cath and Eliza are alike online, they completely differ in that respect. There was never a single point in the story where I wanted to pull Eliza off the page and yell at her for being a blinded hermit. Why? Because it was all believable. The way that Eliza was written so perfectly describes what it’s like in reality to live through things that are tough. From family and friendship issues to disorders, Eliza tackles them all, and like real life, she doesn’t always win.

If I could, I’d wrap Wallace in a blanket and just read and write with him for hours on end. For not being an incredibly long novel, Zappia really made me fall in love with all of the characters. Yes, Wallace was perfect, but how about Eliza’s two online friends or the group of Wallace’s friends? Even though they weren’t on the page nearly as often as Eliza and Wallace, I was still drawn to them. I still felt like I knew them even though I didn’t see them that often. Does that sound crazy?

I’m not going to go into depth, as promised, on the plot points of this novel. However, I do want to say that I believe that everything that happened fit together like a perfect, powerful, believable puzzle. It wasn’t just a story about a boy and a girl. Maybe it seems like that from the cover, but this is a story about Eliza. Make no mistake, Wallace is a huge part, as is expected, but to me, it isn’t in any way focused around him. Everyone plays a vital role in supporting Eliza, but it’s not their story. I wanted to know more about the lives of her online friends and more about Wallace and more about pretty much everyone because it felt like it was a story that covered everyone and everything that had to do with Eliza’s life, and in some ways, it is. The fact that I wanted more of these characters isn’t a bad thing, either! It’s like not Zappia didn’t include them enough in the novel, in my opinion, but I could just read a whole story about Eliza’s two online friends and be completely satisfied because they were like real people with real issues that I cared about as much as Eliza.

Because I absolutely recommend this novel, I will say that there are some darker themes; it’s not all webcomic pages and chat windows and happiness. Zappia crawls into the hearts and minds of these characters and uproots their souls for our reading pleasure. Maybe that sounds a little twisted and I shouldn’t word it that way, but it’s important to recognize that not everything in life ends in happily ever after. There are issues in real life that remain forever and always haunt us. Zappia explores these types of problems. While I absolutely love it, I do advise that you just take into account that this isn’t going to be absolutely skipping-through-a-meadow happy the whole time. With that in mind, I do recommend this to anyone who loves creative energy mixed with friendships and online social settings. Honestly, I think that anyone could read this and enjoy it. It’s just amazing. I love it.

Reader Reaction: Stardust

Reader Reaction: Stardust

Title: Stardust
Stand Alone
Author: Neil Gaiman
Released: 29 August 2006
Favorite quote: “There. I knowed a man in Paphlagonia who’d swallow a live snake every morning, when he got up. He used to say, he was certain of one thing, that nothing worse would happen to him all day. ‘Course they made him eat a bowlful of hairy centipedes before they hung him, so maybe that claim was a bit presumptive.”
goodreads

I’ve been wanting to read Stardust since I first found out that the movie was based on a book. Honestly, it was one of my favorite films growing up and I’d never had a clue that it was based on a book (maybe because I never paid much attention to anything before and after the film started, including credits and mentions of Neil Gaiman). I’m going to make this quick: It’s a definite must read if you love fantasy.

This was my first read by Neil Gaiman and I was really surprised by the writing style. It felt like it was catered toward children, and then came a semi-explicit sex scene and description of killing an animal. No, I’m not one of those people that says children can’t read certain books, but I don’t think this was written for children, which made the style + content a really interesting combo for me. I sent a text to my friend (also an English major) about it, and she laughed when I reached the sex scene and declared that it wasn’t as much of a children’s book as I had originally thought. Anyway, the writing was amazing. The whole thing just sucked me into the pages because of Gaiman’s fantastical way of telling a story.

It was much different from the movie in many aspect and very similar in others. Even though I’d loved the movie as a child, I’m glad that I read the book. The ending was much better than I’d anticipated! Despite the fact that this is a fantasy novel, Gaiman sticks to realistic reactions and portrayals of people. I loved every minute of it!

There’s not really much else that I want to say since I don’t want to give away the story. The settings, plot, and characters were amazing. For how short this book is, I didn’t feel that it didn’t tell enough, so that’s a huge plus. It’s one of my favorite quick read stand alones that I’ve read. Definitely go out and buy a copy. Read it. Love it. Now.

Reader Reaction: An Ember in the Ashes

Reader Reaction: An Ember in the Ashes

Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Series
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Released: 9 February 2016
Favorite quote: “You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes.”
goodreads

This is a novel that my friend, Taylor, bought me for Christmas. She works at a bookstore and thought/knew that I’d love it. Well, she was right. Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes is one of those novels that makes me uncomfortable in the best way possible. On goodreads, I rated it 5 stars (though it’d be more like a 4.5, if we could do half stars). Slight spoilers, but nothing major.

Characters.

Laia, a young girl who is forced to make tough decisions and face death straight on, is the protagonist. Usually when there are inner monologues on the page that stress the discomfort and pain of the main character, I’m turned off by how it’s done. However, Laia’s “complaints” were well written and didn’t make me want to face palm myself even once. Even though she does complain at times, I think her character is what makes it more than tolerable – appreciated. (That and the fact that the situations that she’s in are outrageously stressful.) She’s a self-proclaimed coward, and yet she does what she must to save the ones she cares about. When it counts, she’s brave. Never does she say that it’s easy. In fact, she points out constantly how easy it would be to not do what she does and instead turn away, but it’s her compassion and heart that drive her to bravery. I think that Laia, in this sense, is one of the most relatable characters that I’ve read in a while.

Elias, the golden boy/literal bastard who is the sole drop of water pushing against the waves, is the (/a?) love interest. (I’m kinda confused about where the romantic side of this series is going, even after having read the last chapter. It seems like it would clear some stuff up, but I think that even though this is set up to have the Elias/Laia love plot, it’s still going to be a love triangle?) The thing that I hate about stories like this is that there’s always the head-of-class/powerful/terrifying character archetype that seems like it comes from nowhere. Why do they think differently? Because, duh, they’re special! No. No. This is unacceptable. So! When Elias’ background actually makes complete sense in building his moral code, I instantly became a happy camper. I love his character.

Cook, Izzi, Helene, Marcus, Zak, the Commandant, and the others. I know that this is rushes, but I want to make a general statement about these characters rather than go into detail. They’re refreshing. They aren’t the two-dimensional characters who are written to serve a single purpose. Everyone fluctuates as characters as they would as people. No one is really straight-forward and sure (except maybe the Commandant) because these characters are subject to change! I love that. It’s awesome to read side characters that I root for just as much (if not more than) the main protagonists.

Setting and plot.

Should I stop saying that I love everything? Because it seems a little difficult for me to stop while writing this review.

Honestly, the plot was unpredictable and the setting has as much life as the characters. The layout descriptions create this stunning yet ravaged land that furthers the plot and the develops a specific atmosphere that envelops the reader as easily as wrapping a tired child in a blanket.

The history of the land is unique and definitely something that fascinated me right off the bat. The only negative thing that I have to say about that is that it set up for a couple major plot developments later on were too clearly foreshadowed, making some things easy to pick up on (though not anything that ruins the main twists and turns!). Also, I felt that when it did get to the explanations near the end, the whole thing felt rushed, like something that you’d read in an old cliche adventure story than what I typically expect from novels now. Other than that, it was awesome.

Definitely read this novel/series if you haven’t! It’s amazing and I think it’s appropriately written to attract both males and females. Warning: mentions of rape and physical abuse, so be cautious if you are squeamish. I don’t like reading stories with rape, but there wasn’t anything direct in An Ember of the Ashes. The physical abuse in present tense was kept to a minimum, but there were tons of references to what had been done in the past. It was a bit upsetting, but nothing that made me even consider putting the book down.