Review: The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna

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Title: The Lost Girl 

Author: Sangu Mandanna

Published by: Balzer + Bray, imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Published: 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-208231-2

Wow. This is the word I choose to sum up Mandanna’s epic novel. It’s very rare that I’m so struck by a concept that is so shocking and morally-challenging, but so brilliant and complete. “Eva is an echo, a clone. She was stitched by a Weaver in the exact image of a girl names Amarra. Eva’s life is not her own” the dust jacket proclaims. She is forced each day to wake, eat the same food as her original, read the same books, like the same things, love the same people. She has never lived another way, but this burgeoning young woman, who thinks and feels for herself, begins to mentally rebel by this life in which she is imprisoned. Freedom is not an easy option with the threat of the Weavers’ seekers who are there to enforce the Weavers’ laws, and the Hunters who seek to rid the world of these unnaturally created beings. When her original inevitably dies, Eva must replace her, moving from London, England to Bangalore, India, emulating Amarra’s action, conversation, and relationship. This novel will have you questioning: What does it mean to be human? Why and how do we judge others in our society? What constitutes life?

This thrilling Frankensteinian tale is timely in it’s discussion of genetic duplication what with Dolly the sheep and use of cloning to grow organs. Mandanna brings to light issues of unnatural human reproduction and how far some people will go to create beings in the human image. What happens when someone starts to play God? This position, the Weaver, comes with extreme power and corruption. I loved the naming convention Mandanna chose to use with her characters: Weaver, Echo, Hunter, Seeker. This convention brings a sense of reality and life to the novel. I especially love the term “echo.” Reflected on the cover with the silhouette of a girl, faceless and almost transparent–barely there, the concept of an echo is something that is similar, but not quite the same as, and perhaps even distorted from its original. As an echo, Eva is hardly an individual. She is a thinking, breathing human being, but she is but a shadow of her original. The novel demonstrates Eva’s discovery of her own autonomy, her attempt to fulfill the position of the original girl, and ultimately her failure to fully become the original, because she is not the original. 

I really liked Eva as a character, because she has such a strong desire to be her own person. She can be annoying with her argumentative and hot-headed ways. Even though she is headstrong, she makes an effort to be Amarra as best she can because she comes to love her familiars and her new siblings and she wants to do what she can to make them happy. Her efforts are really commendable. I really love that despite everything she goes through, Eva never loses her spark of individuality. She spends her life learning to be another, but through this process she fights to form her own opinions and to discover her own likes and dislikes. She is strong, she is persistent, she is sometimes irrational, but she a fighter.  

Criticisms: 

As I firmly believe with any novel, it’s not always about romance. I liked how Mandanna structured Eva’s struggle between the boy she truly loves and the one she is forced to love as she fills Amarra’s place. In this case it helped to strengthen the reader’s empathy with Eva as she works to forget her life and her love for Sean. But personally, if I’m running from the law at any point in time, and trying not to get killed, I don’t think pursuing a relationship/romantic encounter is going to be at the top of my list of things to do. I like Sean as a character, and he has a lot of sense throughout the whole novel, but the romance could have been put on hold. 

The only other thing I had an issue with was that I felt the end of the novel to be a little rushed. What I like about The Lost Girl is that it never feels rushed as we slowly get to know Eva and the people around her. But as soon as she begins to run from the Weavers, I feel like we begin to skim over things a bit. Maybe I was skimming while reading in my excitement. But there is so much action packed into the last little bit of the novel. I really would have liked to see this extended a bit more. 

This is an absolute MUST read. This novel had me tense and on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t put it down and I’ve been thinking about it constantly. Eva’s voice is startlingly honest and moving as she struggles with the grief she feels for the deceased girl and her family, but also determined on her search for her self-identity. 

Meeting Marissa Meyer!

So I did something last night that I’ve never done before. I went to my first author Q&A and book signing! I know, book crazy girl like me, I should be going to these events all the time. After last night, I don’t know why I haven’t been going to author events for years. I got a chance to meet and speak with Marissa Meyer, author of The Lunar Chronical’s (and I’m currently reading book 2: Scarlet). Although we spent a lot of time on our feet, the wait was worth it. Marissa gave a great talk, had tons of funny anecdotes, and was witty and quick with her answers. She seems like a very down-to-Earth woman with a lot of brilliant ideas. She really connected with her audience (there was a turnout of well over 100 people). I had a ton of fun. Plus, I was introduced to a bunch of Canadian book bloggers to whom I want to say thank you for making my first author signing a wonderful event! 

Plus I got this little momento from the evening: 

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I’m hooked. What a fun way to get to know the author just a little bit more. Keep your eyes out for more reviews soon!

Review of “The Forsaken” by Lisa M. Strasse

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Title: The Forsaken

Author: Lisa M. Strasse

Publisher: Simon & Schuster BFYR

Published: 2012

ISBN: 9778-1-4424-3265-9

This book has an absolutely stunning cover. It’s because of this cover that I picked up this book and purchased it in the first place. The story itself was very reminiscent of the Divergent series for me. The world is controlled by a Big Brother-type government led by Minister Harka, that imposes peace and passivity on its citizens through thought pills. Testing is completed on each person in their teenage years. Those who are resistant to the governments testing are publicly known as “Unanchored souls” and are thought to be citizens who possess the potential to develop into violent criminals later in life. Those who are resistant to the government drugs are sent to “The Wheel” or Island Alpha, a violent and seemingly lawless place wracked by death, illness, and desperation. The protagonist, Alenna, reminded a lot of the “divergent.”

The Forsaken sets itself up nicely to be a thrilling dystopian YA. All the ingredients are there: imposing and controlling government, tough female protagonist who is wronged by the society that bred her, potential love interest who supports his female companion as an equal partner. This story isn’t all that new. However, Strasse still establishes and excellent and compelling concept with the potential to be an interesting series. I still felt as though I’d read this story many times before with only a few slight details altered.

Alenna Shawcross, our main character, is everything you’d want in a YA female protagonist. She is strong, motivated, dedicated, and loyal. This story is a coming-of-age tale for Alenna. Orphaned at a young age, she finds herself and her strength on the wheel. She shows herself to be a determined girl who is willing to fight for her survival and the survival of those who are also wronged by the government. I admit i did really like Alenna as a character, until the end of the story. Throughout the rising action and the climax of the story, I found her to be a tough and persevering young woman. It is only when she gives in to the cliches of teen romance, that she falls into the confines of the overdone teen protagonist archetype. 

There were a few aspects of Strasse’s novel that were a bit unbelievable and farfetched, the first being Alenna’s rushed training. Yes, she is trust unexpectedly into an unforgiving and threatening scenario with no training and no known survival skills. And yes, she is a dedicated and determined student, but in nine days, Alenna gains the skills necessary to become a vital part of a scouting party that is training to fight and kill in order to protect themselves and their settlement. Her determination is admirable, but I cannot believe that she becomes proficient in personal attack and defence skills. To become decently skilled in armed and hand-to-hand combat in such a short amount of time seems thoroughly unlikely, especially for a sixteen-year-old girl.

The second aspect that left me feeling doubtful is the romance between Liam and Alenna. She works to keep her distance from Liam for a short little bit, but she soon gives in to her undeniable attraction. These two fall “in love” so quickly, it’s hard to believe that there is anything real between them. Alenna feels closely connected with Liam before even speaking with him. We learn that as children they played together, and their parents were allies in rebellion. This to me seems a little too convenient. I could have accepted them falling in love. The fact that they are reunited after so long, and their romance falls into place so perfectly, seems so falsely orchestrated to me. This story would have been a lot stronger leaving these two as friends, or at least delay the romance until book two.

The cliffhanger ending promises rebellion and uprising among dissidents. I am curious to see how the story will unfold. I hope I am not disappointed. The Forsaken was definitely an enjoyable and easy read, but it’s definitely not the greatest novel I’ve ever read.  

 

Review of Veronica Roth’s “Insurgent”

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Title: Insurgent

Author: Veronica Roth

Publisher: HarperCollins 

Published: 2012

ISBN: 9780062024046

As promised, I’m continuing on my venture into the land of YA. And it hasn’t been all sunshine and happiness. Prepare yourself because my thoughts on this novel are not as pleasant as I’d like them to be. I have never been so disappointed making my way through a book as I was while reading Insurgent. The first book in this trilogy, Divergent, was strong (although Tris was never the most likeable character) and promised an exciting and thrilling continuation in its sequels. Reading the second in the series, I found it to be completely needless. Eliminating this book could have save a lot of people a whole lot of time. The plot felt like filler and had little substance to it. I’m not going to bother giving you a plot summary because there really was not much plot to sum up. I felt as though while writing Insurgent, Roth was bidding her time, for what I don’t know. 

Tris was a badass chick in Book One. I wasn’t a fan of her personality, but she was a risk taker. She fought for what she wanted and was everything you’d want of a strong female protagonist in an intelligent and thoughtful YA. In Book Two, however, she falls to pieces. Not once do we see even a glimmer of the girl we as readers are introduced to previously. I found her to suddenly to recede into a weak, useless, dependent girl who relies on everyone else to save her. She becomes a lot of talk, but little effective action. 

The first thing that troubled me about this book was the never-healing wound in Tris’ shoulder. She is wounded–shot in the shoulder–and this wound remains throughout the second book. Her wound becomes her downfall in every fight. Each opponent she faces seems to conveniently know that her affliction is her and each takes advantage of this, making sure to squeeze, punch, or whack the affected area. Tris always, in response, blacks out or collapses, becoming completely ineffective in the many repetitive rebellions. I don’t know why, when she is waiting in safety at many point throughout the book, she doesn’t have it looked at or properly treated and dressed so it can heal. 

The next thing that got to me was Tris’ sudden and constant desire to act thoughtlessly and recklessly. She is often running off to give herself to the enemy or lashing out at the Dauntless rebels. As a result, she usually ends up captured and confined or injured even further. And no matter how many times she hands herself over to the enemy, her friends, and inevitably Four…ahem, Tobias (I can’t say his name without thinking of Arrested Development) comes to rescue this perpetual damsel in distress. 

And I, of course, have to address the relationship between Tris and Four (I’m going to continue to call him Four. I like it better). I know they’re young and their relationship has been put under a lot of strain with the constant battling and the ever-present danger, but communication deteriorates completely in this novel. They fight at the drop of a hat and their fights consist of silence and mind games. “I want to kiss him, but I don’t.” “He looks as if he wants to stroke my cheek, but he seems to think better of it and turns away.” (These are not verbatim quotes). They both clearly want to make up, but refuse to throughout the novel. 

One strong point in the novel that I will point out is the believability of Tris’ torment over killing Will and they way in which she is haunted by the loss of her family. I felt a lot of compassion for Tris in these moments throughout the book, and I really feel that it is her internal struggle that adds interest and carries the plot. It is here where she gained my sympathy. I wanted to see her succeed in overcoming her pain. 

Alas, after reading Insurgent, I am not scrambling to pick up my copy of the third instalment. I’ll most likely pick it up eventually because I cannot leave a trilogy two thirds completed. But it is begrudgingly that I’ll make my way to the third book. 

Review of “The Lunar Chronicles: Cinder” by Marissa Meyer

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Title: The Lunar Chronicles: Cinder

Author: Marissa Meyer

Publisher: Square Fish, imprint of Macmillan 

Publication Date: 2012

ISBN: 978-1-250-00720-9

Prepare yourselves. I’ve started on a YA kick. I love YA as much as the next person, but I’m not one to read this exciting genre exclusively. However I’ve devoted a lot of time over the past week to reading YA and I’ve got a whole stack waiting to be read on my nightstand. 

I was told (thanks morethanjustmagic.org!) that I HAVE to read this book. I was skeptical at first. Cyborg meets Cinderella; it didn’t really sound like my cup of team. But am I ever grateful! Cinder is a futuristic retelling of the age-old Cinderella story. The protagonist, Cinder, is a mechanic in New Beijing. Her world is wracked by a deadly disease that is picking off the population one by one. Cinder herself seems to be unaffected. When the empire’s Prince Kai seeks out her mechanic skills and establishes a personal connection with her, Cinder is forced to choose between her duty and obligation as a cyborg to her evil and controlling step-mother and her budding romance and freedom with the prince. This story is a captivating reimagining of a timeless classic. 

My expectations were so low with this tale when I picked it up. Teen fiction in the last few years for me has become monotonous and repetitive. It’s rare that something stands out among the rest, but this futuristic fairytale sets itself apart with ease in terms of the concept and the world that is created. 

Cinder has many strengths. The plot is very strong and well-developed. Cinder is an in-depth character with defined opinions, strict morals, and intense motivation. She forms meaningful relationships with those who are important in her life (her sister Peony and her loyal android Iko). Cinder is passionate about her mechanic job and is very practical in her work and home life. Further, the world in which she lives is so thoroughly constructed that the reader really believes in the setting that is created. Plot elements and descriptions of the setting are consistent, constructing this futuristic system in the empiric ways of old China. In a post-apocalyptic world, it makes sense that the government and society would return to the ruling system that controlled this Asian empire for centuries. Finally, the rhetoric and prose flow well and are easily readable. I did not stumble over the words of the text and I found myself easily moving through the paragraphs.

My mains criticisms surround the character of Kai. I find myself struggling to remember much about him as a character, that’s how unmemorable and dull I found him. The romance that he establishes with Cinder is flat with little meaning behind it. I didn’t really think there was anything concretely romantic between them although there is indication that they are falling in love at the end of the text and the cliffhanging ending suggests that perhaps the romance will bloom in the subsequent texts. What was the basis of the relationship beyond physical attraction? These two characters rarely spend more than a few paragraphs together so can we really believe that Kai would flirt with Cinder (and vice versa) based on attractive personality traits rather than just appearance? I felt as though I didn’t understand Kai at all. We see him through Cinder’s eyes, but I can’t understand why she likes him. As I said, she spends so little time with him that there’s no way she can know him. The reader only knows him as the Prince who wants to do what’s right for his people. Admirable, but not enough for me to fall in love with him. I need more. I think Meyer could have strengthened this element of the story by cutting some of the slower Cinder moments in lieu of a few Kai chapters so the reader can come to understand him and their relationship a little bit more. 

Overall, Cinder is a very strong YA fiction novel; however the character’s motivations and their development could have been stronger. Despite this, I will definitely be purchasing a copy of the next book in The Lunar Chronicles series, Scarlet. And if you haven’t read Cinder yet, pick yourself up a copy. Anyone who enjoys YA will not be disappointed. 

 

The Alchemist by Paul Coelho

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Title: The Alchemist

Author: Paulo Coelho

Publisher: HarperOne

Publication Date: 1993 (English Version)

ISBN: 978-0-06-250217-9

Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is a story of self-discovery and personal destiny. An Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago embarks on a journey of living out his dreams of finding treasure in Egypt instead of settling for the simple, easy, and tolerable life of a shepherd. He leaves behind this dependable and steady lifestyle to fulfill his personal destiny through hard work and dedication. From the wisdom of the fortune teller, the king, the Englishman, and the alchemist, the boy learns to listen to and understand his heart. He persists through failure and struggle and discovers his inner strength and wisdom. 

This is a story of the universal human condition. Like the boy, people struggle to know and pursue their hopes and dreams. The boy finds the ultimate balance in his life, becoming in tune with himself, nature, and dreams. His struggle and failures are similar to the struggles that most people face in their lives in order to reach their goals. Coelho’s story reads like a timeless fable: informative, inspiring, yet simple and beautiful. As a fable, it is a story that instills morals of hard work and perseverance. The message is clearly stated and is widely applicable for readers. 

This ubiquitousness is furthered in the naming conventions throughout the story. Names are not used consistently. Santiago is generally referred to as “the boy.” I had to go back afterwards and look up his name as I was so used to identifying him as “the boy.” Likewise, the king, the alchemist, and the Englishman are names as such, without any proper names. This universality makes the tale relatable for readers of all kinds. The boy and the secondary characters could be anyone. It is a didactic tale, meant to teach and inform and the lack of names aids in this mission. 

I could definitely tell this book is a translations. Little idiosyncrasies are apparent as you make your way through the text, but I found this added to the books overall charm. It added an aural quality to it. I felt as though I were sitting around the fire listening to an ancient storyteller pass on tales of wisdom and mystery. The narrator fills this role of talented and captivating storyteller and wont let you go until the very last lines of the story.  

My criticism for Coelho’s novel is although the story is beautiful and captivating (and already quite short), I found it to be a little too long. I tired with the boy’s constant distractions. I hoped he would come to be more focused on his mission, but he’d end on in one place or another for extended amounts of time. His short attention span for his personal destiny was frustrating for me. As I read his tale, I found myself wishing that it soon be finished. This book seems to be loved by everyone who reads it, but I wouldn’t say it quite lives up to the hype that surrounds it. It was a good read, but it wasn’t the amazing story that I was expecting. I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more if The Alchemist if it had been a short story. 

I would definitely recommend checking this book out. It is widely well-received and is a pretty good read, but don’t expect a life-changer