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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Replica


*This review was originally posted on Teenreads.com*

Lauren Oliver, the bestselling author of the Delirium series, returns with an explosive and unique sci-fi novel about crossing the line between science and humanity. Set in Florida, and told from the perspectives of a human and a genetic clone with mirror-inverted covers, one can read Lyra’s story first and then Gemma’s, or alternate between the two. With its original layout, Replica is an exciting and one-of-a-kind reading experience.

Lyra, better known as #24, has lived in Haven all her life. She’s a replica—a clone, and all she knows about the world around her is that she was created by a scientist in a research facility. While growing up, a kind nurse gave her the name Lyra—but a name is all she has. One day, an explosion destroys Haven and Lyra escapes with a boy known as #72. In the midst of hiding away, she runs into a girl who calls herself Gemma.

Gemma has been sick for as long as she can remember. Growing up with overprotective parents, she lives a lonely life. But after she is almost kidnapped by a stranger claiming to know her, Gemma begins to look into her family’s past. She discovers her father was involved with Haven, and she is determined to find out what really goes on in the research facility. While trying to sneak in, she stumbles upon something even more mysterious…

I really enjoyed the setting of Replica. Half of the story takes place at the institute, and Oliver describes the blank white walls, meager food and tests that are run on the clones. Haven is downright creepy, and its eeriness drew me in. I found that it was hard for me to put down the book, and I kept reading in hopes of discovering more about Haven. However, I was disappointed that not all of my questions were answered in this first novel.

Although the secondary love story is a bit forced in Lyra’s perspective, Replica is masterful in the way that it explores the themes of individuality, humanity and free will. Both girls are trapped in their own prisons, with Lyra being a clone at the institute and Gemma with her overprotective parents. I started with Lyra’s side for no particular reason, but found that reading Lyra’s story first gave me insight on Gemma’s story that I would not have known without reading both perspectives. The theme of genetic cloning is a little overdone, but the story still felt original. There were plenty of twists that I didn’t see coming and I was pleasantly surprised by its fast pace. A mix between sci-fi and thriller, this quick and easy YA read is perfect for Halloween and the fall season.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Torch Against the Night


*This review was originally posted on Teenreads.com*

Sabaa Tahir returns with the highly anticipated sequel to her best-selling debut, An Ember in the Ashes. Picking up where the first book left off, A Torch Against the Night takes readers on a dangerous and thrilling adventure north to Kauf prison, where Laia—accompanied by the Empire’s most wanted fugitive, Elias—must save her brother before it’s too late. His knowledge of Serric steel is the key to the Scholar’s future and the Martial Empire’s demise. Meanwhile, Helene must choose between her childhood best friend and her duty as the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike.

Tahir’s latest novel did not disappoint. In this follow-up, we get three alternating points of view from Laia, Elias and Helene, broken up into four sections. The short chapters and constant switch between perspectives helped me better understand the inner-workings of each character. Since reading the first book a year ago, I had forgotten most of the storyline. (I would suggest rereading the first book before diving into this one.) However, about 50 pages in, I found that I was able to reconnect with the characters and their struggles. Tahir’s intricate world-building just added another layer of intensity to the story. Filled with cliffhangers and massive plot twists, Tahir’s clever storytelling creates an air of suspense that kept me on my toes; I was dying to learn what happened next!

Unlike the first book, this story focused less on romance and more on character development. Both Laia and Elias have matured since the Fourth Trial and although they escaped Blackcliff, they are battling their own inner demons. Elias—wracked with guilt and the knowledge of his dark fate—must learn to forgive himself for the atrocities he committed during the trials. With enemies chasing them at every direction, Laia knows that freeing her brother from prison is the Scholars’ last hope for survival, but can she trust those who have offered their help, and those whom she loves? People are not who they seem, and Laia and Elias are consistently forced to make conflicting and impossible choices that have terrifying consequences. In A Torch Against the Night, the stakes are higher, and every decision could affect the future of thousands of lives.

The best part of the book, hands down, was Helene Aquilla. Although she was a difficult character to understand and relate to in An Ember in the Ashes, we are finally able to see the world from her point of view, and Tahir creates an incredibly brave and resilient girl-boss. A Torch Against the Night is ultimately a book about power: the power one group of people has over the other and the power men have over women. I cringed whenever Marcus tried to dominate, torture or manipulate Helene, Tahir’s brilliant representation of misogyny in a society. The intimate struggle of power between the new Emperor and his second-in-command was harrowing, but every time he tried to destroy, or rather “unmake” her, Helene would rise again, stronger and brighter than before. She is a torch against the night, and Tahir’s portrayal absolutely blew me away. I cannot wait for the next book in the series!

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, July 11, 2016

Life After Juliet


*This review was originally posted on Teenreads.com*

Life After Juliet is the companion novel to Shannon Lee Alexander’s Love and Other Unknown Variables. It’s a heartfelt young adult story about first love, stepping out of one’s comfort zone and learning to live with loss.

Ever since Charlotte passed away from cancer, Becca Hanson has been measuring time in pages. It’s been 3,718 pages since her Dad dropped her off for her first day of school. It’s been 150 pages since she stepped on the bus this morning. And it’s been 108,023 pages since Charlotte died. Grieving the death of her best and only friend, Becca spends every minute she can with her head in a book, living through fictional characters whose stories and endings have already been written. People don’t bother her and she prefers it that way. But after accidentally face-planting in her classmate Max Herrera’s lap one day, things take a turn for the better.

Suddenly, Becca finds herself doing things she’s always wanted to do, but was too afraid. She attends callbacks for the school play, "Romeo and Juliet." She finally dances on a table. She even builds a catwalk with power tools. As Becca gets to know Max better, she starts connecting with other people from school, as well. She befriends the Techies who help produce and create the set for the play, and makes a pact with the school’s drama queen and star actress, Darby. Max, the Drammies and the Techies show Becca that perhaps the real world isn’t so bad. Although life is uncontrollable, maybe certain things are worth living for. Perhaps letting people in can heal.

Alexander’s novel is a touching and delightful exploration of friendship, loss and hope. It’s about acknowledging that the grief never really goes away, but forgiving oneself for moving on. It’s about remembering how to laugh again, and that letting go is not the same as forgetting. Becca’s healing process was a journey I thoroughly enjoyed taking and reading about. With witty references and homages to major literary works such as Shakespeare, The Velveteen Rabbit and A Wrinkle in Time, this book makes for a wonderful and unforgettable read, perfect for book lovers and drama fanatics alike.

Rating: 4.5/5

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dreamers


Fireworks, sparklers and sunsets make me think of youth. Of rooftops filled with dancing bodies, the smell of cooking meat and animated voices overpowering the sound of music blasting from speakers. Last night was an adventure. A group of us took a train into Williamsburg, Brooklyn around sunset only to be welcomed by a sudden downpour. We ran a couple of blocks, screaming and soaked from head to toe in rain, until we found a deli where we picked up four umbrellas, hopefully shielding us from our plight. When we got to the party, we made a run for the rooftop, our excitement trailing after us in the wet footsteps we left behind. A single ladder formed a bridge between two rooftops, and we made our mark on both platforms. It started to drizzle, but we lit sparklers anyway, laughing and smiling as the fire illuminated our dark faces. A few of us climbed onto the roof, surveying the area to predict which direction the fireworks would come from. 


When they finally started, we huddled together, perched onto the edge of one side as we clapped and cheered and celebrated. Lights came from every direction; some even burst into sparks above our heads, floating down like rain and scaring us back inside for a few moments before we gathered enough courage to reenter the flickering world. Last night made me think of the summer between high school and college. Of young adults with idealistic futures, our hopes and ambitions unscathed by reality. A group of dreamers packed together on one of thousands of rooftops in New York City. A fleeting moment of youth, before we replace our adult masks and wake up the next morning to go to work. 

(Photos taken in Williamsburg, Brooklyn)

I hope you all had a wonderful Fourth of July!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan


*This review was originally posted on Teenreads.com*

Click here to read an exclusive interview with author, Catherine Egan!

Julia Vanishes is the first book in Catherine Egan’s Witch’s Child trilogy. Her debut is a sparkling novel filled with magic, murder, witches, thieves, good and evil and, of course, romance. This captivating read is about a city terrorized by a serial killer and a heroine like no other, perfect for fantasy lovers and fans of Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes and Adriana Mather’s How to Hang a Witch.

Ever since she was a child, Julia has always had a special ability: she can vanish without a trace. She is not invisible, per say, but she can disappear into another reality, one that most people cannot see. It is a useful talent for someone who is a thief and a spy. Growing up parentless in a city that has outlawed all forms of magic, Julia and her brother find themselves working for a group of thieves who steal in order to survive. Her latest task is to work undercover as a housemaid in Mrs. Och’s mansion—and to spy on the mysterious people who live in her home.

Confronted with intriguing characters including a disgraced professor and a strange aristocrat who locks himself in the basement every night, Julia becomes suspicious that the people of Mrs. Och’s grand home may be involved in something deadly—perhaps even related to the serial killer who has been leaving bodies all over the city. But as Julia comes to know the individuals she is working with, she grows increasingly conflicted over delivering the information that is required of her and returning safely back to her fellow thieves, or betraying the people she is beginning to care for. As Julia finds herself caught in a moral struggle, she is also trapped in a battle between forces more powerful than she’s ever imagined.

Although Julia Vanishes started out quite slow—despite beginning in media res—the magical world that Egan has created is certainly a fascinating one to read about. It is obvious that Egan is intrigued by religion, mythology and the history of witch cleansings, and she effectively adds her own creative touch. The witches in this world use a pen and a piece of paper to write and cast their spells, and Julia has her own unique ability to vanish, an aspect of the novel that I found intriguing and consistently wanted to know more about.

The characters in Egan’s novel are well-developed and relatable. Many of them, including Julia, deal with complex, realistic feelings such as overcoming fears, staying faithful and true to oneself and choosing whether to place duty over love. I was particularly impressed with the philosophical conversations between Julia and one of Mrs. Och’s residents, Frederick, which touched upon the topic of free will. Julia herself is a well-rounded, memorable individual who at times can be cynical and sarcastic, but remains an admirable heroine throughout the book. Her independence, intelligence and ability to stay ambitious despite hardship, make her one of the most exceptional protagonists I’ve ever encountered in a novel.

In spite of the various themes working in the story—including witchcraft, religion and philosophy—Egan successfully links together all the elements into one, intricate fantasy. The reader is left with an ambiguous ending and a number of questions for the next installment in the series. I can’t wait to read about what happens to Julia next!

Rating: 3.5/5