Book review: Contagion by Erin Bowman

35068650*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Contagion

Author: Erin Bowman

Publisher: HarperTeen

Publication Date: July 24, 2018

ISBN: 9780062574145

Synopsis from Goodreads:
After receiving a distress call from a drill team on a distant planet, a skeleton crew is sent into deep space to perform a standard search-and-rescue mission. When they arrive, they find the planet littered with the remains of the project—including its members’ dead bodies. As they try to piece together what could have possibly decimated an entire project, they discover that some things are best left buried—and some monsters are only too ready to awaken.

Reflecting back on the long weekend, it was awesome to have a book to sit down with and read over the course of a day. Contagion is a fast paced sci-fi horror fic featuring an interstellar mission gone wrong. The book takes on a variety of perspectives, creating a sense of chaos throughout the novel. It can be a bit confusing at times as it jumps around, but I think the reader is meant to feel the same sense of anxiety and disorientation that the characters are experiencing as their worlds fall apart.

I found this book to be similar to the first book in The Illuminae Files. The contagion, the interstellar fight for survival, the effects of the pathogen on the affected. If you’ve read this other series, then you’ll probably like Contagion. It differs in a few ways, through the varying perspectives and the rescue team’s group dynamic. The ending also hints at a story to come that is vastly different. I wasn’t sure how the story was going to unfold when I first began, but by the end, I was hooked on this series.

This story builds and builds, gaining strength as it moves along. The beginning was a bit slow, but once the story really picked up, I couldn’t get enough. I would have given this story 5 stars, but I had some frustrations with the captain, Dylan. At first I could understand her power-hungry nature and her recklessness. The other characters identify her vices and call her out on them. Yet she stubbornly refuses to listen to reason and that ultimately leads to the demise of her team. I know the story would have been a bit less intense had she seen reason earlier, but as a team captain of her station, I couldn’t find her totally believable in this world.

The other characters, however, are interesting and each has a distinct and unique voice. Bowman does a great job differentiating the voices in each POV and creating well-rounded backgrounds for each of her characters. This detail makes her world that much more robust and adds a certain level of relatability to each character.

Overall, I’d say if you’re looking for a new sci-fi series, check out Contagion. I, for one, am looking forward to reading book 2!


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Book review: The Fall of Innocence

30309371.jpg*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Fall of Innocence

Author: Jenny Torres Sanchez

Publisher: Philomel

Publication Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 9781524737757

Synopsis from Goodreads:
For the past eight years, sixteen-year-old Emilia DeJesus has done her best to move on from the traumatic attack she suffered in the woods behind her elementary school. She’s forced down the memories–the feeling of the twigs cracking beneath her, choking on her own blood, unable to scream. Most of all, she’s tried to forget about Jeremy Lance, the boy responsible, the boy who caused her such pain. Emilia believes that the crows who watched over her that day, who helped her survive, are still on her side, encouraging her to live fully. And with the love and support of her mother, brother, and her caring boyfriend, Emilia is doing just that. But when a startling discovery about her attacker’s identity comes to light, and the memories of that day break through the mental box in which she’d shut them away, Emilia is forced to confront her new reality and make sense of shifting truths about her past, her family, and herself.

Reading this in public while I was waiting for an oil change on my car while trying not to cry at this absolutely devastating story is possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. The Fall of Innocence is a story of survival and deep pain following the brutal attack and sexual assault of a young girl. We’re never shown exactly what happens to Emilia DeJesus out in the woods behind the school that day, but the author hints about a brutal assault and rape. The reader does intimately live the after affects with Emilia, experiencing her pain and struggle along with her desire to just be a carefree teen like everyone else.

Sanchez paints and incredibly moving story about Emilia, now a teenager, as she struggles to live with the intense fear and stress of her memories. Her case has been reopened as new information has come to light and everything she’d experienced as a young girl rises to the surface again. Everyone fears that they won’t be able to help Emilia in any way, although those that love her desperately want to ease her agony. This story gives us a glimpse at intense trauma, PTSD, and a family trying to find their way.

This is by no means a happy ending kind of story and its themes might be a trigger for some. It’s a tragic and emotionally devastating story, but it’s so beautifully written. It’s honest and shows this story from every angle. Each family member has a voice which I think brings so many issues to light and explores how each family copes and suffers in the aftermath of the attack. Each family member has their own story to tell and we are given brief glimpses of each of them throughout. Tomas, in particular, hides his own secret that he can share with no one. I wish we’d gotten to see more of him, because his own emotional turmoil rages deep within him and he feels he cannot outwardly be the person he is on the inside, yet he pushes his own concerns aside to focus his love and energy on his sister.

This is a heavy boots kind of book so fair warning, it might not be the book for you. But if you’re looking for something that shares the vast depth of human emotion and the inner workings of a family trying to recover, then I’d give The Fall of Innocence a try.


Book Review: What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan

32349400.jpg*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: What We Were Promised

Author: Lucy Tan

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Publication Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 9780316437189

Synopsis from Goodreads:
After years of chasing the American dream, the Zhen family has moved back to China. Settling into a luxurious serviced apartment in Shanghai, Wei, Lina, and their daughter, Karen, join an elite community of Chinese-born, Western-educated professionals who have returned to a radically transformed city. One morning, in the eighth tower of Lanson Suites, Lina discovers that a childhood keepsake, an ivory bracelet, has gone missing. The incident contributes to a wave of unease that has begun to settle throughout the Zhen household. Wei, a marketing strategist, bows under the guilt of not having engaged in nobler work. Meanwhile, Lina, lonely in her new life of leisure, assumes the modern moniker taitai–a housewife who does no housework at all. She spends her days haunted by the circumstances surrounding her arranged marriage to Wei and her lingering feelings for his brother, Qiang. Lina and Wei take pains to hide their anxieties, but their housekeeper, Sunny, a hardworking girl with secrets of her own, bears witness to their struggles. When Qiang reappears in Shanghai after decades on the run with a local gang, the family must finally come to terms with the past.

I’m feeling really torn about this book. I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. I enjoyed the story and I think there were lots of complicated emotions and themes explored throughout, however I wasn’t wowed or blown away by the story. I walked away from this book after a good read, but there’s nothing spectacular that I feel really made this a must-read book for me. It’s a story of  the Zhen family: Lina, Wei, and Karen, as well as Wei’s brother Qiang. This book explores their past, as children and young adults, and again in the present moment as adults. In contrast to the Zhen’s, the story also explores the life of their housemaid and then nanny, Sunny. Told from various points of view, Tan’s book shares issues of class, immigration, loss, family, friendship, and so much more. This book explores how things are never as clear as they appear to be on the surface, and there is almost always a hidden story to discover.

I enjoyed the various perspectives in this book. I felt like having the different voices really gives the reader an inside look at each of the characters. We’re able to understand the characters on a much deeper and more personal level. I’m so glad that Tan chose this format for What We Were Promised. There aren’t too many characters, so it’s not overwhelming in any way. Instead, it creates a unique style and voice for this tale to be told. We get to see inside and outside views of the Zhen family, to see their judgements of themselves and others, and to see others’ judgements of them. We can see how the truth can be bent and distorted in so many ways, and how people can really come together in times of need.

What I didn’t love is that I didn’t feel like any of the characters were particularly memorable. They felt very stock to me and while they had well written and unique voices from one another, the characters really we’re exactly what you’d expect them to be. I found it to be pleasant but not incredible.

Overall, I would say it’s a good book that’s quick and easy to read, but it’s not life changing. I came out in the middle of the road with this one. I neither loved nor hated it. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it a bit better than I did.


Book review: On of Us by Craig Dilouie

36518473*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: One of Us

Author: Craig Dilouie

Publisher: Orbit

Publication Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 9780316411318

Synopsis from Goodreads:
They call it the plague
A generation of children born with extreme genetic mutations.

They call it a home
But it’s a place of neglect and forced labour.

They call him a Freak
But Dog is just a boy who wants to be treated as normal.

They call them dangerous
They might be right.

I’m really torn about Dilouie’s One of Us. On the one hand, I think it’s an excellent commentary on race and racism in the American south, exploring this topic through fantastical allegory. It’s also a commentary on snap judgements based on appearance, making assumptions based on how another looks without taking a moment to know or understand that person. In this world, a plague affecting thousands of children around the world has altered their genetics to make them superhuman beings. Often with unusual or “different” features, the sight of these children repulses and raises prejudice in those that consider themselves “normal.” They persecute these children, confining them to isolation and abuse. With a civil war imminent, some try to voice their support for acceptance of the children but they are shot down. With seemingly no allies, the children must find a way to fight for their lives.

There are clear parallels between this story and the discrimination persecution that has existed and continues to exist in the world today. The townsfolk refuse to assimilate their children with the plague children. They force them to labour in the fields and on local properties exploiting them as a labour force without proper compensation. The children are allowed no freedoms and are at the mercy of the law. This story explores the concept of hate-based fears and unfounded prejudice. It shows how hatred breeds fear in a vicious and difficult-to-break cycle and how difficult it is to stand up to deep-seated and ingrained discrimination to make a change for the better.

However, on the other hand, this story goes so much further than it needs to on so many occasions that I often felt total disgust at the characters or repulsed by the explicit violence and gore. There are scenes of rape–real and fantasy, there are gratuitously violent moments that go into great detail, and there is even lust surround female children that linger for far too long. There are ways to deal with these topics without delving into such detail. I felt gross at times reading it, and it really put me off the story. It’s too bad that such things needed to be included so graphically because it really detracted from an excellent discussion about some very real and prevalent issues in our own world today.

I’m on the fence about this one. I don’t think I’d read it again, and I can’t say if I’d recommend it. Many people on Goodreads have a lot of nice things to say, so I’d recommend reading a few reviews before making the decision to read this one, or avoid it.


Book review: The Summer of Us by Cecilia Vinesse

35833029*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: The Summer of Us

Author: Cicelia Vinesse

Publisher: Poppy (imprint of Little, Brown & Company)

Publication Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 9780316391139

Synopsis from Goodreads:
American expat Aubrey has only two weeks left in Europe before she leaves for college, and she’s nowhere near ready. Good thing she and her best friend, Rae, have planned one last group trip across the continent. From Paris to Prague, they’re going to explore famous museums, sip champagne in fancy restaurants, and eat as many croissants as possible with their friends Clara, Jonah, and Gabe. But when old secrets come to light, Aubrey and Rae’s trip goes from a carefree adventure to a complete disaster. For starters, there’s Aubrey and Gabe’s unresolved history, complicated by the fact that Aubrey is dating Jonah, Gabe’s best friend. And then there’s Rae’s hopeless crush on the effortlessly cool Clara. How is Rae supposed to admit her feelings to someone so perfect when they’re moving to different sides of the world in just a few weeks?

If you’re looking for a light and fluffy summer read, this is the book for you! The Summer of Us has everything you’re looking for if you like cute, whirlwind romance novels with the perfect mix of friendship, love, and beautiful cities thrown together. This book delivers exactly what it promises, a summer of crushes and romance, and many a gorgeous European city. The characters have known each other for their high school years, forming the kind of friendships that one can only form in those important formative years. They are facing an end of an era with college fast approaching in the fall. Their weeks together in the summer are wrought with fear of the unknown and uncertainty in the face of change, with an intense desire to hold on to what they’ve got in one another.

I do enjoy a good fluffy read. This one was light and breezy and didn’t ask too much of the reader. It’s here to make you smile and warm your heart. I did struggle with one of the protagonists, Aubrey, as so many of her problems could be solved if she was just open and honest about her feelings. Conflict that arises when there is a break down in communication can drive me a bit nuts sometimes. However, I’m willing to forgive Aubrey a bit because she’s at a tumultuous point in her life where so much upheaval is occurring and as a teen, she’s just on the cusp of learning who she is.

I enjoyed how much of this book is focused on friendships, in tandem with the focus on relationships. Not only are the characters falling in love and learning what it means to be in love, they are also navigating their friendships as they experience incredible change. They navigate their transforming relationships with uncertainty.

I actually think this novel would have been a lot better if it had focused on Rae and Clara’s developing relationship. Rae has been out as a lesbian for a while and she’s developed a huge crush on Clara, but she’s not sure if Clara is attracted to girls. They’ve been friends for such a long time and Rae doesn’t want to risk ruining things before she moves to the opposite side of the globe for school. All she wants is for a fresh start. Her story becomes all the more complicated when things get sticky in her friendship with Aubrey. This story is so much more interesting and complicated. We could have done away with the Aubrey story line and really delved into Rae’s world. Cecilia, can you write a Rae only story please?

This book is fun, but not life changing. It was light and easy reading. It’ll be perfect for the beach side if you get a chance to get out this summer.

Book review: An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim

36622743*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: An Ocean of Minutes

Author: Thea Lim

Publisher: Viking Canada

Publication Date: June 26, 2018

ISBN: 9780735234918

Synopsis from Goodreads:
America is in the grip of a deadly flu pandemic. When Frank catches the virus, his girlfriend Polly will do whatever it takes to save him, even if it means risking everything. She agrees to a radical plan—time travel has been invented in the future to thwart the virus. If she signs up for a one-way-trip into the future to work as a bonded labourer, the company will pay for the life-saving treatment Frank needs. Polly promises to meet Frank again in Galveston, Texas, where she will arrive in twelve years. But when Polly is re-routed an extra five years into the future, Frank is nowhere to be found. Alone in a changed and divided America, with no status and no money, Polly must navigate a new life and find a way to locate Frank, to discover if he is alive, and if their love has endured.

I’m loving the post-apocalypse trend that’s been happening in fiction lately. More and more really awesome and imaginative novels have been coming out over the past few years and it’s a really intriguing and gripping premise that’s being explored. An Ocean of Minutes falls very solidly into the intense post-apocalypse genre with some sci-fi thrown in. The result is a heart-stopping and emotional novel about two lovers who hope that their love can transcend time, if only they are both able to survive the pandemic that is sweeping the nation and the incredible changes that their world is undergoing in the face of mass death.

The story is told from Polly’s perspective, flipping between 1981 and 1998. Frank is the love of her life, but when he tests positive for the deadly virus, Polly has no choice but to make the decision to sell herself to the conglomerate, TimeRaiser, to work in the future so that Frank might be saved. They make a plan to meet in the future, hoping that things will not have changed so much that they won’t be able to find one another. However, the future is nothing like Polly could have ever imagined and suddenly she is facing the possibility that she may never see Frank again.

I absolutely loved this novel for it’s incredible ability to keep me guessing the entire way through. Lim is a masterful and imaginative world builder. She’s created a very bleak and drastically different future in 1998, one that we can’t even imagine. I couldn’t guess what things were going to be like or how the world was going to change. It was impossible to guess how the story was really going to play out because the world in which Polly lands is one of indentured servitude, layers of secrecy, and incredible apathy. Her world is terrifying, yet also distantly removed from our own. I enjoyed that Lim chose to place the story in the reader’s past, establishing this story as fictional and not supposing it to be in our own future a few hundred years from now. It takes a unique approach compared to other post-apocalyptic stories that have more of a doomsday feel that supposes how our current world will fall apart, forcing the reader to imagine themselves in the scenario. Lim’s novel reads like Orwell’s 1984, clearly fictional as it’s set in the past, however the themes and government structure is a commentary that closely applies to our own world today.

My only criticism was that I felt that the resolution was too quick. I was hoping for a cathartic relief in the ending, but it was wrapped up so fast that I felt a bit cheated of the ending. This story is very stressful and bleak that you want to revel in a nice resolution, but it was trim and over far too soon. I would have liked a few more pages at least.

I highly recommend this one. It’s got a beautiful cover, an amazing story, and a love that transcends time. What more could you ask for?

Happy reading!