Book Review: Disruption Duology by Jessica Shirvington

Aussie Jessica Shirvington’s Disruption and Corruption is one of the most energetic, thrilling and addictive YA dystopians/utopians I have read recently. To say I feel mad-love for this duology would be an understatement so I will try to keep the fan-girling to a minimum…mostly.

Summary of Disruption (As per Goodreads)

What if a microchip could identify your perfect match? What if it could be used against you and the ones you love?

Eight years ago, Mercer Corporation’s M-Bands became mandatory. An evolution of the smartphone, the bracelets promised an easier life. Instead, they have come to control it.

Two years ago, Maggie Stevens watched helplessly as one of the people she loves most was taken from her, shattering her world as she knew it.

Now, Maggie is ready. And Quentin Mercer – heir to the M-Corp empire – has become key to Maggie’s plan. But as the pieces of her dangerous design fall into place, could Quentin’s involvement destroy everything she’s fought for?

In a world full of broken promises, the ones Maggie must keep could be the most heartbreaking.

What I liked:

Shirvington took our current obsession with technology and social media and created a frightening world where relationships are made and destroyed on the basis of how a person rates with another. Business relationships, friendships, marriages, even casual sexual encounters and something as simple and transient as the waitress serving you at your local diner, are all subject to how one rates against the other.

As if that was not frightening enough, she also posited a world where these ratings could be manipulated, to benefit those in power and enslave those without it. Fascinatingly scary stuff!

I could certainly relate, albeit on a rudimentary level. I tend to be a little obsessed with Goodreads ratings and/or reviews from like-minded reviews when it comes to prospective reads. I just do not want to waste my precious time reading something I will most probably not like. And I often wonder if I am missing on an underrated great read just because I am so dependent on external sources to point me in the right direction.

Luckily, I picked up Disruption and Corruption in an impulsive fit at my local bookstore after briefly glancing at blurbs on Goodreads a few days prior.

Maggie Stevens. She is definitely one of the more unlikely heroines of the era. She is smart, skilled, manipulative and driven to a fault. She does not use her powers for good…well, not in the way you would expect a typical YA heroine to anyway.  I thoroughly enjoyed her learning curve with respect to loyalty, trust and love as well her developing perception of right/wrong.

Then there is Quentin. I prefer to call him Quin. Gosh, my heart broke for this guy. Maggie does a number on him and Shirvington did such a brilliant job of demonstrating how he overcomes it. He is very subtle for a YA male lead and I liked that. He is described as tall, dark and gorgeous, like most YA male leads but I liked that Shirvington did not lay on the broodiness too thickly. Quin actually comes off as quite well adjusted in the circumstances and only throws around emotions when needed. Despite some well placed (and equally well qualified) dramatic outbursts, I found him Quin to be refreshingly adaptable in the face of earth-shattering changes.

Gus was another brilliant character. The dynamics between him, Quin and Maggie, particularly Maggie, were outstandingly penned. Maggie and Gus’s exchanges were hilarious and heart-wrenching, I do not know how Shirvington managed this but I loved it.

The relationship between Maggie and Quin was so epic, it was frightening! I am not one for all-encompassing romance, but Shirvington qualified their bond so well with scientific authority (of the fictional variety, of course), that I found it hard not to get swept up in it. To her credit it is not traditionally mushy. It is melodramatic, sure, but I loved that the epic-quality of the romance is depicted through crippling angst and crushing-hurt rather than swoon-worthy soul gazes. It was painfully gorgeous and complex and I loved it.

What I did not like:

Throughout Disruption my heart broke for Quin and I found myself looking forward to or rather dreading how he deals with larger truth when it is revealed to him. And like I said, Shirvington does a great job of demonstrating the after effects of the reveal in Corruption but I would have loved it more if Corruption was from a dual perspective. I just wanted a peak into Quin’s psyche and see first hand the havoc Maggie had created there. Sadistic, I know. But if you have caught on to my inane love of books written from dual perspectives, you would understand why I craved it.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend Disruption and Corruption. I believe it to be a great follow up to The Hunger Games and/or The Divergent Series. It features brilliant world-building, witty dialogue, heart-stopping action, heart-melting romance and a break-neck narrative featuring a stellar cast of characters with even better character dynamics (romantic and platonic) In short, un-put-down-able.

Film Review: Far From The Madding Crowd

Far From The Madding Crowd

Far From The Madding Crowd is based on the work of Thomas Hardy.

Far From The Madding Crowd is a tale of the independent, strong minded, resourceful, and beautiful Bathsheba Everdene played by Carey Mulligan. The film follows Bathsheba’s attempts of finding a man to tame her. It explores the nature of relationships and love, along with the ability to overcome hardship through perseverance. Bathsheba is a strong character, played beautifully by Carey Milligan. She is a true symbol of strength, and a force of nature whose constant struggle is to show that she is a capable individual, more so, a capable woman, who can thrive in a man’s world.

“It is my intention to astonish  you all.” 

Her beauty and spirit entices three suitors – the sheep farmer, Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), captivated by her perseverance and determination; the well-to-do businessman and bachelor, William Boldwood (Michael Sheen); and the handsome and resourceful Sergeant, Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge).

The storyline somewhat revolves around the ‘will she, won’t she’ get with Gabriel (who I was totally rooting for – not just for his good looks, but also his undeniable charm and true of heart nature). But it is also a great tale of survival, beating the odds, standing up for oneself, and showing the world exactly what it is you are capable of.

I really enjoyed the film. It was a great period drama, which had truly gorgeous English countryside settings, excellent actors, a love story, and a strong female lead – what more could you ask for? It’s a film that teaches us that perseverance and hard-work will always pay off in the long run.

Far From The Madding Crowd comes out to NZ cinemas this Thursday, 25th June. Have a look at the trailer below:

Book Review: The Edge of Forever by Melissa E Hurst

I am a sucker for a good time travel story which means more often than not I pick up a not so decent one or a plain-bad one. Melissa E Hurst’s The Edge of Forever, fortunately falls within the decent if not mind-blowing territory.

Summary (from Goodreads)

In 2013: Sixteen-year-old Alora is having blackouts. Each time she wakes up in a different place with no idea of how she got there. The one thing she is certain of? Someone is following her.

In 2146: Seventeen-year-old Bridger is one of a small number of people born with the ability to travel to the past. While on a routine school time trip, he sees the last person he expected—his dead father. The strangest part is that, according to the Department of Temporal Affairs (DTA), his father was never assigned to be in that time. Bridger’s even more stunned when he learns that his by-the-book father was there to break the most important rule of time travel—to prevent someone’s murder.

And that someone is named Alora.

Determined to discover why his father wanted to help a “ghost,” Bridger illegally shifts to 2013 and, along with Alora, races to solve the mystery surrounding her past and her connection to his father before the DTA finds him. If he can stop Alora’s death without altering the timeline, maybe he can save his father too.

What I Liked

The Edge of Forever talks a mean plot and certainly demonstrates it by combining the following tropes:

  1. Time-bending, space-bending and mind-bending;
  2. High school drama;
  3. Family drama;
  4. Romantic drama;
  5. Clones;
  6. Secrets and conspiracies.
  7. Futuristic technology;
  8. Psychopathic serial killers;
  9. Murder, mystery and mayhem.

I have much applause for Ms Hurst who manages to combine all the abovementioned elements quite effectively.

It is sci-fi for those of us who do not hold PhDs in theoretical physics (or whatever denomination of science travel through time and space falls in) yet is kind enough to  keep it relatively complex so as not to insult our average intelligence.

Alora and Bridger were very average characters, in that they were still very much regular teenagers for their respective era, with regular neuroses, who just happened to be thrust into extraordinary circumstances. They may come off as not being very impressive at first, given that most sci-fi /fantasy characters are usually larger than life, but I found it quite refreshing that they were relatable to an extent.

Ms Hurst’s future was certainly very interesting.  Genetic manipulation leading to development of time-travelling, space bending and mind-reading abilities in people really made the nerd in me hyped up. The gadgetry, conspiracy and intrigue were but bonuses.

What I Did Not Like As Much

While I appreciated that romance was not the sole focus of the novel, I would have liked Alora and Bridger’s interactions to be a lot more engaging. Romantic feelings aside, I think these two crazy kids’ dynamics could have been, for the lack of a better work, more dynamic.

At times the narrative seemed a little middle-grade-ish which was at odds with the complex plot tropes outlined above. Some interactions and dialogues were overly simplistic and lagged in pace.

That being said, Ms Hurst continued to keep me engaged because despite the dip in pace, she kept the mystery and intrigue alive, getting me to turn the pages. Also, she more than makes up for it, the last 20 percent of the book progresses at an explosive pace,  with all the various plot-lines seamlessly converging into a heart-pounding conclusion. This ultimately mitigated my qualms with the mid portion of the book and geared me up for the sequel, which Ms Hurst has confirmed to me, is in the works. I think now that she has laid the foundations the sequel can be expected to be more gripping.

In summary, The Edge of Forever, personally, seemed for the most part to be on the edge of greatness (pardon the miserable pun) but a good read never the less. The precipice at which Ms Hurst closes the book is very promising and I definitely look forward to more.

 

Book Review: The Artisans by Julie Reece

I went on a fairytale re-telling marathon recently, the first of which was Artisans by Julie Reece, a gothic re-imaging of Beauty and the Beast that was utterly scrumptious.

Summary

After the death of her mother, seventeen-year-old Raven Weathersby gives up her dream of becoming a fashion designer, barely surviving life in the South Carolina lowlands. To make ends meet, Raven works after school as a seamstress creating stunning works of fashion that often rival the great names of the day.
Instead of making things easier, her stepdad’s drinking leads to a run in with the highly reclusive heir to the Maddox family fortune, Gideon Maddox. But Raven’s stepdad’s drying out and in no condition to attend the meeting with Maddox. So Raven volunteers to take his place and offers to repay the debt in order to keep the only father she’s ever known out of jail, or worse.

Gideon Maddox agrees, outlining an outrageous demand: Raven must live in his home for a year while she designs for Maddox Industries’ clothing line, signing over her creative rights. Raven can’t imagine working for the arrogant and infuriating Gideon Maddox, let alone sharing the same space for more than five minutes. But nothing is ever as it seems. Is Gideon Maddox the monster the world believes him to be? And can he stand to let the young seamstress see him as he really is?

The Good

The setting was quite unique and refreshing, contemporary yet with the flare of a historical gothic romantic thriller.

Raven was a great character to root for. Life had dealt her misfortune after misfortune and yet her her compassion and courage barely takes a beating. She turned her struggles to strength and became a hero to herself and to those around her.

Gideon initially comes off as a clichéd charming bastard but as Ms Reece devolves the mysteries surrounding him, he transforms into a multi-dimensional character.

What I liked most about Raven and Gideon’s relationship was that while it evolved in true fairytale fashion, thrilling and swoon-worthy, it remained in sync with Raven’s growth as a character throughout the novel.

Dane, Maggie and Cole made an excellent ensemble of supporting characters, the various dynamics giving the narrative volume and substance. They allowed us to see Raven from multiple points of reference, painting a thorough picture of our protagonist.

Finally, the unique paranormal twist took my breath way. I barely saw it coming even though Ms Reece left clever little clues throughout the book. The Artisans’ legacy was an intriguing and a fascinating one and my only complaint is that I woud have liked Reece to elaborate on the lore.

The Bad and the Ugly

I believe at the time of reading the novel, more than a couple of weeks ago, I had a few little qualms about it but they all seem to have evaporated now.

I will mention that the pacing lagged in some portions, but only by a thin margin. That being said, Ms Reece had already captured my undivided attention by then so I could not put it down in any event.

In conclusion, The Artisans is a unique modern day retelling of Beauty and the Beast filled with mystery, romance and wonderful characters as well as a brilliant paranormal twist. If you love a good upgrade to a beloved fairytale, look no further than Julie Reece’s The Artisans. It will not disappoint.

 

 

Book Review: Reboot and Rebel by Amy Tintera

I have an inane love for a good fairytale re-telling or an interesting twist on classic lore/mythology, Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles and Rick Riordan for Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus being my top favourites.

While I am not a big fan of zombies, I appreciate Issac Marion’s (Warm Bodies) and Chris Roberson’s (iZombie) unique interpretation of the franchise. Amy Tintera is another such individual who took the basics behind the trope and fashioned a complex (albeit convenient) YA dystopian out of it with her debut Reboot and its sequel Rebel.

Summary (courtesy of Goodreads.com)

Five years ago, Wren Connolly was shot three times in the chest. After 178 minutes she came back as a Reboot: stronger, faster, able to heal, and less emotional. The longer Reboots are dead, the less human they are when they return. Wren 178 is the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. Now seventeen years old, she serves as a soldier for HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation).

Wren’s favorite part of the job is training new Reboots, but her latest newbie is the worst she’s ever seen. As a 22, Callum Reyes is practically human. His reflexes are too slow, he’s always asking questions, and his ever-present smile is freaking her out. Yet there’s something about him she can’t ignore. When Callum refuses to follow an order, Wren is given one last chance to get him in line—or she’ll have to eliminate him. Wren has never disobeyed before and knows if she does, she’ll be eliminated, too. But she has also never felt as alive as she does around Callum.

The perfect soldier is done taking orders.

The Good

While it would be easy to focus on politics and freedom-fighting in a post zombie and/or robot apocalyptic dystopian novel, Tintera manages to dig deeper and question the readers’ perspectives on humanity. Is it black and white? Or shades of grey? Or a rainbow? She expertly weaves these existential queries/suggestions within a pulse-pounding, syrupy-sweet and appropriately gory narrative.

Wren is a beautifully crafted protagonist, conflicted and complex, each of her inner struggles palpable because Tintera qualifies her thoughts so well. Her character develops throughout the duology as opposed to a single isolated burst of clarity, something I found realistic. She questions and re-questions things using various points of reference. I loved her thorough thought process. I adored her relationship with Callum, Ever, Addie, Riley and even the antagonist equally because the interactions were engaging and revealed layers of her.

Callum, freaked me out for the most part of Reboot. He is the best version of a human (and a Reboot) possible, so insufferably pure of heart that he can pick up and swing Mjölnir like it’s no Asgardian’s business. It was weird yet refreshing to read about such an optimistic male lead with a conscience as stubborn as they come. I think YA fiction is so overpopulated by brooding, tall, dark and scary men of action, that someone like Callum is immediately disconcerting. The first impression of him is that of someone weak, soft and annoying but you eventually come to respect him for his convictions. I started off with shaking my head at his antics and later realised I started to smile while doing it, so he definitely grows on you.

I appreciated that Tintera wrote Rebel from both Callum’s and Wren’s perspectives because I finally got to understand Callum and genuinely like him. Also, his character development throughout Rebel, though not as gradual as Wren’s, was shocking and exciting. I believe if The Hunger Games ever got written from Peeta’s perspective, he would sound a bit like Callum.

Wren and Callum were very different people and I loved that their individualism was maintained throughout the two books even as they changed into better versions of themselves. Their relationship was built on understanding as opposed to blind compromise which I found quite endearing.

The Bad and the Ugly      

I honestly, can identify anything significantly unlikable about this duology. Some portions of the plot were rather convenient for my liking and I would not have minded Tintera making me sweat while she resolved it, but in hindsight my overall enjoyment of the books outweighs that little hitch.

In summary, Reboot and Rebel were quick, thrilling reads and I needless to say I will be eagerly looking forward to more great reads from Amy Tintera.

 

 

 

Film Review: Aloha

Aloha

“The future isn’t just something that happens. It’s a brutal force… with a great sense of humour, that will steam roll you, if you’re not watching.”

Aloha is quite a star studded film. The story centres around the ‘fallen’ Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper), a disillusioned ex-pilot and space aficionado. He is forced to return to Hawaii for a military contract, and is reminded of his failed relationship with his former lover, Tracy (Rachel McAdams). Tracy has since married Woody (John Krasinski), a man of very few words, and has two children – Grace and Mitchell. We are reminded that Brian has a shadowy past, and doesn’t seem to make the best decisions at times. He is guided by liaison Alison Ng (Emma Stone), an Air Force pilot, and who is 1/4 Hawaiian (which we are constantly told) throughout his travels around Hawaii. She is a firecracker, who is ferocious in her believes and yet also quirky. It is great having her along for the ride, as we discover the legends and stories of the Hawaiians and get a better understanding of parts of the storyline.

The film has the odd chuckle moments throughout. I like the unspoken narrative at the end of the film. It is a touching moment between father and child. The rest is a bit weird and nonsensical, but I think it was their attempt to have a bit of humour in the script.

Ideally, I think this film is more so a tale of redemption. It’s about Brian figuring out who he is, and what kind of man he wants to be. It’s about working through past issues, and seeing what you have now. This is reflected in not only Brian, but Tracy as well. She lives in the past, constantly reminding Brian of how he ruined everything. It is quite a sad element of the film, as the pain from the past seeps into the present, and affects everyone involved. The title of the film, Aloha, meaning goodbye and hello is a good reflection of the film. As the tag lines says, ‘sometimes you have to say goodbye before you can say hello’.

I quite enjoyed the film overall, but there were moments which didn’t flow very well for me. At times, the film seemed to have a lot of things going on in it, which made you forget some elements of the storyline. However, do check out the trailer below, as Aloha hits NZ theatres Thursday 4 June. Enjoy and Aloha.

Book Review: After the End and Until the Beginning by Amy Plum

Amy Plum’s After the End duology is easily of one my favourite recent reads. The premise of someone discovering that they had been falsely raised to believe they lived in a post apocalyptic world was immediately intriguing and once I discovered it was from a dual perspective, I couldn’t scramble to open the book fast enough.

Summary

Somewhere in the Alaskan wilderness, Juneau is living with a small band of survivors from the third world war that wiped out man kind. They have survived off the land for the past 30 years via creating a spiritual bond with nature, The Yara. The Yara is strong with the newest generation of the survivors, indicated by the starbursts in their eyes. Juneau has a particularly strong bond with the Yara and as such she is next in line to become the sage of her people.

One day Juneau returns from a hunt to find her village in ruins and her people gone. She finds a message from her father amongst the ruins, telling her to run. She taps into the Yara for signs on how to find and rescue her people. In doing so, she breaches the boundaries of her land and discovers that there was no war. Civilization was intact. It was all a lie.

Adrift in the modern world she never knew existed, Juneau’s paths cross with Miles.

Miles, the troublesome son of a wealthy pharmaceutical CEO, needs his father to bail him out of trouble one last time and convince Yale not to reject his application. He discovers his father is desperately looking for a girl…with a starburst in her eyes. Miles conjures up a plan to find her to impress his father…but how does he find her in the middle of such a large place.

Fortunately for Miles, The Yara tells Juneau that Miles is the person who will lead her to her lost people and it draws them to each other. They join forces and embark on a cross country trip, Miles thinking he will get to impress his father by delivering Juneau  to him and Juneau  thinking Miles will unite her with her people.

The problem: He thinks she is crazy. She thinks he is a useless idiot. And then there’s the matter of armed men pursuing them.

The Good

Ms Plum could not have imagined more believable characters than Juneau and Miles. Miles struggles to reconcile his modern skepticism with Juneau’s beliefs, in particular her abilities which include communicating with animals, videoconferencing via fire and talking to people polite society would otherwise steer clear off.

Nowadays belief in the supernatural/spiritual power is often met with skepticism, let alone belief in supernatural/spiritual abilities. As such I found Miles reactions to Juneau quite understandable. I also appreciated that he did not hold back when trying to understand her, aloud. He directs words like ‘hippie’, ‘brain washing’ and ‘crazy’ toward her. Also understandable, not everyone is politically correct all the time.

Miles is more or less correct. Juneau is crazy, crazy-smart, crazy-skilled and crazy-brave. Sure, the Yara pointed her to Miles but she was not about to trust him any time soon. Why would a boy suddenly agree to chauffeur her across the country, particularly when he thinks she is insane? So I appreciated that she was not a naive fanatic and expertly balanced her beliefs against her instincts.

I adored both their narratives. The vastly different worlds they came from could not have been distinguished as expertly with a single-perspective. The perspectives were not just believable but persuasive because Miles and Juneau qualified their arguments for everything so well. Their banter was hilarious and a delight to read!

The audio books, which I sampled for about half a dozen chapters, are narrated by Emily Rankin and Graham Hamilton and they do a fantastic job of bringing Miles’ and Juneau’s narratives to life. Hamilton in particular articulated Miles’ sense of humor and his reactions to Juneau quite well.

I enjoy reading about developing relationships and particularly enjoyed the development of Miles and Juneau’s relationship. It progressed at a mostly pragmatic and believable rate and did not overpower the narrative.

It is difficult to comment on the larger plot of Juneau’s missing people, why Mile’s dad needs Juneau and the reason behind the armed men following them, without spoilers. So I will only mention that it is novel, well-developed and engaging.

Finally, the series is basically a wonderfully weird road-trip, something I abhor in real life but adore in my reading life.

The Bad and the Ugly

There was nothing to dislike about this series. If there was, I’m having a hard time recalling it so it must not have been so significant.

The series neatly, if not easily, ties up by the end of the second and final instalment, Until the Beginning. I think Ms Plum could have easily made this a trilogy but I ultimately appreciated that she kept the level of complexity moderate. Often complex narratives are taken as a sign of a high quality read but personally it is tiresome and more often than not pretentious.

In summary, if you are looking for a break from dystopian/utopian fiction but do not want to stray too far, After the End and Until the Beginning will be a perfect fit. It was an addictive read, a combination of very well defined characters within a unique take on urban fantasy. Give it go and let us know what you think.