Archive | 4 stars reads RSS for this section

Review : Incarnate

Incarnate by Jodi Meadows
Pages : 416
Genre : YA, Science-Fiction, Dystopia
Series : Newsoul, book 1
My Rating :

What it’s about :

Ana lives in Range, a place where souls are being reincarnated in different bodies, over and over. No one ever really dies, and the souls keep their memories from one life to the other.

That is, until one night one soul vanished, and Ana was born instead. Living with her abusive mother, Ana has always considered herself a “No soul”, an abomination that shouldn’t be. But when she finally leaves home in a quest for answers, Ana meets Sam, and she begins to consider that maybe being a “New soul” is not all bad.

My Thoughts :

What an interesting premise and an intriguing world Jodi Meadows has created with Incarnate! Though this strange world was a tad difficult to get into for the first few pages (it wasn’t clear to me if the book was fantasy, science-fiction, futuristic, etc), I was quickly hooked to Ana’s story. Her world was new, different from the ones I usually read about, real or imagined. I also had a lot of compassion for what was happening with her mother, an abusive woman who basically blamed Ana for the disappearance of another soul.

It is quite obvious, when Ana meets Sam, that romance will be had in the story. While romance by itself isn’t a bad thing, this is where, for me, the book lost most points. Though Sam and Ana do spend a lot of time together, we are not allowed to see enough of their friendship and their romance feels a bit forced. From that point on, they spend a lot of time thinking about each other, looking at each other, being with each other… and sadly the romance takes over other aspects of the story which were, in my opinion, more interesting. I wanted to learn more about the big city of Heart, the world of Range, the legends, the characters surrounding the two lovebirds, Ana’s story, etc. I will say that despite the romance, there still is a lot of information about the world, just less than I would have hoped for.

An interesting aspect of the novel was, of course, the reincarnation, and with that, gender. This came as a surprise for me, as I didn’t know which form the reincarnations would take in the story. In Incarnate, souls can be reincarnated as man or woman. This raises important questions on what is gender? A pure biologic function? Social conventions? A mix of both or something else? The novel doesn’t directly raise those questions, but I couldn’t read it without my brain wondering about this constantly. If two souls decide to be linked forever together (as some do), and come back in other lives in a different gender, wouldn’t that affect their relationship? Or maybe the constant cycle of reincarnations gives them a more open point of view on gender? Maybe they see it simply as another characteristic, like eye color, hair color, height, etc?

I don’t have an answer, and the book doesn’t either. I’m not sure if the author simply didn’t think that far, or if she wanted her readers to make their own ideas. What would it be to be Ana in this world, born only once as a woman? Would it feel normal to have a boyfriend who was once a girl? If the society you grow up in is used to that, would you be too? I don’t know. This makes my brain hurt a little.

Which probably means that Incarnate offers something that many YA novels of speculative fiction don’t offer (sadly), and that is : interesting topics of discussion. I think there is a lot to be said about a world where you can reincarnate, forever, and keep your memories. What makes life worth living then? What would change in our daily lives? And there is, as I pointed out, a lot to be said about gender too.

There was also a slight issue with pace; after a lot of the romance between Sam and Ana, things suddenly start happening towards the end, when there is a rush of events and a few twists. I wouldn’t have minded this discrepancy in paces  if the slowest part wasn’t so focused on the romance. Other than that, I did enjoy the story, the characters, the world, and the conclusion. I’m looking forward to reading more about Ana and her world in the coming novels.

Series Reading Order :

  1. Incarnate
  2. ?
  3. ?
Advertisements

Review : If You Follow Me

If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous
Pages : 354
Genre : Fiction
Stand Alone
My Rating :

What it’s about :

Still grieving her father following his suicide, Marina hopes teaching English in Japan will be the change of scenery she and her girlfriend Carolyn need. However, the culture shock is bigger than she expected, and Marina soon finds out that you can’t really escape your past, no matter how hard you wish you could.

My Thoughts :

My impression of If You Follow Me was that it had a very quiet pace, yet contained so much on an emotional level. Some parts had me smiling and almost laughing, while other parts made my heart break. Marina’s journey through grief and integration to a new culture had no boring moment, while being written very realistically. The characters had depth and the culture was explained with great respect (by which I mean, a culture carefully described to foreigners without relying on common stereotypes).

An interesting aspect of the book was Marina’s relationship with Carolyn. While their relationship is part of the story, it isn’t the only focus (or even the main one) of the book. Even more interestingly, I appreciated the author’s effort not to label the two girls. They both had some interest for men, too, Carolyn having dated many (but not exclusively girls) before, and Marina having been only with guys. To have their sexuality not clearly defined, and not being the only defining characteristic of their lives, was extremely refreshing.

I loved discovering Japan through Marina’s eyes. It feels like Asia will never cease to surprise me; no matter how many books, mangas, magazines or stories I read, there is always more to discover about it. If You Follow Me was no exception. Marina discovered great differences through important things like her work or smaller things like the garbage, and I was fascinated by it all. I felt like I was there, trapped in this strange country, learning the rules of life all over again.

I really loved If You Follow Me, and after I finished reading it, I found myself thinking about it quite often. Watrous created strong images with her quiet narration, and because of her talent, I felt like I both met interesting characters and visited another land for the time I read.

Review : Across the Universe

Across the Universe by Beth Revis
Pages : 416
Genre : YA, Science-Fiction, Dystopia
Series : Across the Universe, book 1
My Rating :

What it’s about :

The plan for Amy’s family was simple; cryo-sleep aboard the Godspeed ship, to wake up on another planet a few centuries later. Only, something goes wrong, and Amy wakes up alone, too soon.

Before long, Amy discovers something bad is going on Godspeed : other sleepers get murdered and the ship’s ruler, Eldest, isn’t friendly towards the new girl. As she tries to uncover the truth and protect her family, Amy has to decide whether she can trust Elder, next in line to rule the ship.

My Thoughts :

The first thing I thought about when starting to write this review was “Should I really tag it as dystopia?” Because in truth, Across the Universe is more science-fiction than anything else. Even the romance, which the cover hints at strongly, takes a backseat to the mystery, the ship and the characters’ own personal issues. As for the dystopian aspect, it’s a part of the plot that is not clearly revealed from the beginning, but I did feel the hints were big enough that this is not a spoiler in any way. So, yes; Across the Universe is a slightly dystopian futuristic novel with an intriguing premise.

I’m not sure why the book sat so long on my shelf. When I finally decided to read it, I got hooked to the story instantly. While the narration itself didn’t particularly stand out, I was curious about Amy’s situation. Being put to sleep sure didn’t look like fun! However, I was disappointed by the dual narration. Nothing against Elder, but his voice wasn’t particularly different from Amy’s. I think I would have preferred to discover the ship and the future only though Amy’s eyes.

I also had a few problems with the technological side of the worldbuilding. Maybe it’s because I’m currently reading Physics of the Futurebut I couldn’t accept that the technology used on the ship wasn’t more advanced, more sophisticated. Parts of it were; but some parts of it were too easy, too similar to the technology we already use. Sadly, there was no explanation in the worldbuilding to justify that.

I do wish the characters were more dimensional, too, and less stereotyped. As a villain, Eldest had very little depth, but this is something that could be said of other secondary characters, too.This being said, I do think the strong point of the novel was the story itself. Even though it felt predictable and I could tell, mostly, who did what and what would happen, the pace and the twists kept me reading.

I also loved that, while Amy and Elder had a certain attraction for each other, the novel wasn’t about the romance itself. It was something happening on the side, and that never truly developed into something more. To be honest, I wouldn’t even be surprised if the author introduced another love interest for Amy, since her interest for Elder seemed to be more about curiosity, loneliness and friendship.

Across the Universe sure differentiated itself from all the dystopian stories coming out these days. I’m looking forward to reading book two, A Million Suns, which is already waiting on my shelf.

Series Reading Order :

  1. Across the Universe
  2. A Million Suns
  3. Shades of Earth (coming 2013)

Review : Uglies – Shay’s Story

Uglies : Shay’s Story by Scott Westerfeld, Devin Grayson and Steven Cummings
Pages : 180
Genre : Graphic Novel, Science-Fiction
Series : Uglies (graphic novel), Book 1
My Rating :

What it’s about :

Shay is an Ugly, and like all Uglies, when she turns sixteen, she’ll be transformed into a beautiful, perfect Pretty. She’ll get new looks and move to the most interesting part of the town with all the other Pretties.

But then Shay meets the Crims, a group of teenagers who play tricks and like to explore outside the city limits. There Shay discovers a whole universe, and she starts to question whether she wants to become a Pretty at all.

My Thoughts :

I read the Uglies series a few years ago and absolutely loved it. With the Hunger Games, it’s one of my favorite YA series and one against which I measure all the new dystopian YA series. So of course I wouldn’t pass on a illustrated version of the series, and when I saw it at the store last week, I immediately grabbed it. I am so glad that I can say that I really enjoyed it.

First, I really liked the illustrations. I don’t read that many mangas and graphic novels, but when I do I love the style to be clean and clear. The characters really came alive and I loved how the scenes on the boards felt full of action. I could sense the movement and the danger, and it was exciting to see that what I had imagined from my reading of the story mostly matched what I saw in these illustrations.

The story itself was fun, though very predictable if you have read the books. There seem to be two trends right now for book series; new short stories to keep readers interested in between books’ publication, and direct adaptations of the books into graphic novels/mangas. Interestingly, Shay’s Story is a little of both; the story is almost the same as the one in Uglies, but from another character’s point of view. This mix of familiar and new worked really well for me, helping me remember the series while giving me the chance to discover Shay.

I have always loved Shay as a character. In the books, I always found her a bit mysterious. It was often difficult to understand her true motivations, desires and goals. While her complexity wasn’t as obvious here, I liked that we got to see how it all started for her. Seeing Tally, David and Zane was also really nice. I found it interesting how, seeing the story from another point of view, it was Tally now who became a little mysterious, intriguing.

This visual adaptation of Uglies does have a flaw, and in my opinion it’s a big one. While I loved the illustrator’s style, I felt there wasn’t enough difference in appearance between the Uglies, Pretties and Specials. I do remember that the Uglies are not necessarily ugly but normal, ordinary. For the purpose of a graphic novel though, I feel the contrast should have been bigger. It seemed that all the Pretties had different was a better hairstylist and a touch of makeup, and the Specials didn’t look that special either. This was a tiny bit disappointing.

Still I really appreciated reading it, and it made me want to reread the complete series. I am really happy to know there will be two more volumes following Shay’s Story, and I can’t wait to put my hands on them!

Review : Poison Study, Magic Study, Fire Study

Poison Study;  by Maria V. Snyder
Genre : Fantasy
Series : Study series : Book 1
My Rating :

Magic Study;  by Maria V. Snyder
Genre : Fantasy
Series : Study series : Book 2
My Rating : 

Fire Study;  by Maria V. Snyder
Genre : Fantasy
Series : Study series : Book 3
My Rating : 


Sentenced to death, Yelena will seize any opportunity to stay alive; so when she is offered the position of  food tester for the Commander, she immediately accepts. It’s an offer that comes with a twist; to ensure that she doesn’t try to escape, she will be poisoned, and given daily her dose of antidote -which she would die without. But danger might come from unsuspected sources, and as Yelena steps into what she believes to be a temporary situation, her true story is revealed and her life is forever changed.

The Man of the House and I first read Poison Study when it came out in 2007, and we loved it. I thought the setting, the characters, the plot, everything was great and just different enough to be refreshing when compared to the traditional fantasy I was devouring at the time. So when the following books came out, we added them to our shelves. It took me a while to get to them though, so last year I finally reread Poison Study and followed with the next two books.

I was happy to discover that I still loved Poison Study, even after a second reading. I loved Yelena, found her story intriguing, and felt her relationship with Valek was paced perfectly through the pages. It was a great mix of mystery, romance and worldbuilding, without stepping into the overfantastical-fantasy type of fiction (you know, the kind with magic and elves and mythical creatures and wars and demons, etc). I did feel that some part of the plot was a tad too obvious, but the ending itself had a few surprises.

Sadly, the amazement I had felt in the first book evaporated as I started reading Magic Study. What had been an original setting became a more traditional one of fantasy, with magic school and all that. Yelena was still a nice character and I loved the part that was about her reuniting with her family, but the plot itself was less surprising. Also, not enough Valek.

Which is a trend that continued in Fire Study. At that point, I had a very hard time reading. I will be honest and say I was bored. Had it been the first of a series, I would probably have given up, but after spending so much time with Yelena, I wanted to know where this led. Again, I missed Valek, and despite the action, there wasn’t enough to keep my interest. Plus, I found that Yelena hadn’t developed as a character. To me, her voice was more adult in the first book. It might have been that I wasn’t paying attention enough though.

A side note about age : I was very surprised to see this book being shelved as YA on Goodreads! Here, the books are sold in the regular fantasy section, not with the YA literature, and I have always thought of them this way. It doesn’t really matter really, but I thought it was funny; adult YA readers often argue that good YA doesn’t have an age, and this seems to prove that. I personally think the characters are a bit too old to be considered YA (Yelena is 21, and I imagine Valek is older? I guess?), but honestly, I don’t think the tags matters much. If you want to read it, read it! 🙂

So, I’m not sure what happened between book one and three, but I didn’t like it. I would not hesitate to recommend Poison Study to readers, but I would advise to lower your expectations before getting to the following books. Hopefully, you will enjoy them more than I did, and will be able to appreciate the complete series.

Review : Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay

Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay by Christopher Benfley
Pages : 270
Genre : Non-Fiction
Stand Alone
My Rating :

From the Book’s Jacket :

An unforgettable voyage across the reaches of America and the depths of memory, Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay tells the story of America’s artistic birth. Following his family back through the generations, renowned critic Christopher Benfey unearths an ancestry- and an aesthetic-that is quintessentially American. His mother descends from colonial craftsmen, such as the Quaker artist- explorer William Bartram. Benfey’s father-along with his aunt and uncle, the famed Bauhaus artists Josef and Anni Albers-escaped from Nazi Europe by fleeing to the American South. Struggling to find themselves in this new world, Benfey’s family found strength and salvation in the rich craft tradition grounded in America’s vast natural landscape.

Bricks form the backbone of life in the rural Piedmont of North Carolina, where Benfey’s mother was raised among centuries-old folk potteries, tobacco farms, and clay pits. Her father, like his father before him, believed in the deep honesty of brick, that men might build good lives with the bricks they laid. Nurtured in this red-clay world of ancient craft and Quaker radicalism, Benfey’s mother was poised to set out from home when a tragic romance cracked her young life in two. Salvaging the broken shards of his mother’s former life and exploring the revitalized folk arts resisting industrialization, Benfey discovers a world brimming with possibility and creativity.

Benfey’s father had no such foundation in his young life, nor did his aunt and uncle. Exiled artists from Berlin’s Bauhaus school, Josef and Anni Albers were offered sanctuary not far from the red Piedmont at Black Mountain College. A radical experiment in unifying education and art, Black Mountain made a monumental impact on American culture under Josef’s leadership, counting Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, and Buckminster Fuller among its influential students and teachers. Focusing on the natural world, innovative craftsmanship, and the physical reality of materials, Black Mountain became a home and symbol for an emerging vision of American art.

My Thoughts :

When TLC Book Tours offered me the opportunity to review this book, I felt both excited and a little unsure. After all, even though I do study art history, American art, pottery and related topics are far from my expertise. I did worry I would have a hard time to get into it, but I shouldn’t have; Benfey’s writing pulled me in from the start.

Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay is a book that defies genre classification. It’s a memoir, a story of family, a book about art, history, nations… It is all of this and a little more, all of it coming together in one single narrative. Benley retraces his own origin through his parents and grand-parents’ story while narrating the historic and cultural background of each, and this is what I mostly enjoyed about his book : the intimate point-of-view. It makes history sound a lot more personal and a lot less clinical, all while sticking to the facts.

The book is divided in three parts, and I found them almost all equally interesting. I did enjoy reading about Wedgwood and the Cherokee in the last part, since I am curious about both but haven’t read a lot about either in the past. But, if I am honest, I do wish I could have read even more about the author’s uncle and aunt, Josef and Anni Albers. Maybe because I had heard a little of them before, of maybe because they felt closer to my field of study, I was the most intrigued by their part of the story, and I could have read a complete book about them. However, with a book so full of stories, it was clear the author had included just enough of them.

On a final note, I really liked Benfey’s writing. At times it was a bit unclear which point he was trying to make; he would mention an event, which related to someone specific, which then ended up being a story about someone else, sometimes coming back to the original idea, and sometimes not. It wasn’t a negative point for me; on the contrary, it is precisely what made this non-fiction book more personal and different from a traditional, dry history book.

I am so glad I got the chance to read this book; I’ll be honest and say that it isn’t something I would have picked by myself, but it was certainly a great experience. Benfey made me travel through time and space, gave me a lot to think about on history, family and artists, all of this wrapped in pleasant writing.

For more information or to read more reviews on this book, visit its page on the TLC Book Tours website.