Book Review: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Jane Steele.jpg

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Favourite quotes:

“We tell stories to strangers to ingratiate ourselves, stories to lovers to better adhere us skin to skin, stories in our heads to banish the demons. When we tell the truth, often we are callous; when we tell lies, often we are kind. Through it all, we tell stories, and we own an uncanny knack for the task”.

(About London) “It’s filthy and wet and hides a brutal soul behind majestic walls. Its people are alternatively snobbish or base, and if I didn’t come from a culture of warriors, I’d say it was the most savage city I’d ever seen. I thought it glorious, of course, from the instant it sullied my boots”.

“Grief is a strange passenger; it rides on one’s shoulder quiet as a guardian angel one moment, then sinks razor talons into one’s collarbones the next”.

 

Jane Steele is a Victorian Jane Eyre fan whose fate is, so far, remarkably like her beloved heroine’s. Her parents are dead, and she’s living with her dreadful aunt and a slimeball of a cousin. Since her mother has committed suicide, Jane has few chances of succeeding, so she is sent away to a boarding school, just like Jane Eyre. She befriends a girl named Clarke but soon learns that even the strongest of friendships can perish – that’s how cruel Headmaster Munt is. And Jane’s string of murders begin. Or perhaps they’ve begun even earlier? Was her cousin really in an accident?

After Jane and Clarke flee the school, they find temporary employment with a writer, that also ends soon. Desperate to make a living, Jane penetrates the London underbelly – “London blazes and incinerates. London is the wolf’s maw”. Murder and prostitution become her constant companions. Until one day she sees an advertisement in the paper for a governess for the master of her old home. She takes the position, hoping to secure the home for herself, and find herself enchanted by its new inhabitants – Mr. Charles Thornfield and his ward Sahjara. But they are surrounded by mysteries and, as their sinister past lets itself be known, Jane begins to lose hope and to fear that they’ll discover her own wicked secrets. Will Jane ever find a home and leave her past behind, or is she doomed to be a murderer forever? And will she find peace and figure out her feelings for Charles and her attraction to Clarke that never wavered?

 

As you’ve probably gathered, “Jane Steele” is a retelling of everyone’s favourite feminist classic “Jane Eyre” – with a murderous twist. As fond as I am of original Victorian feminist survival stories like Louisa Cosgrove’s, I love good retellings of classics just as much. “Jane Steele” is a well-told story of survival, and endurance. Ultimately, it’s a story of a woman who takes charge of her own life, despite the constraints of the times and the horrors bestowed upon her by men. Men in this book are quite vile, in fact – except Charles Thornfield and his very endearing and badass “butler”. Jane Steele has plenty of badassery of her own and takes care of the ones she loves – just like the two decent guys in the book. The characters don’t know that until the end, but their methods of “caring” about their loved ones are more similar than either of them suspect.

One of my few issues with the book is the language. I get that the author was trying to “old-fashion” the text as much as possible. And it worked, to an extend. The descriptions of London and Highgate (Jane’s old home) are quite atmospheric, but at times I felt that overusage of Victorian language was a little excessive. It doesn’t distract much from the overall plot, but those of you who love Jane Eyre like I do might not appreciate it.

Jane Steele is, an essence, a bisexual vigilante. As there are so few of those in literature, I of course appreciate the representation. As a bisexual person, I felt that the author has definitely painted Jane’s sexuality well, given the constraints of the time. And given the Londoners’ classic habit of really not caring about the passersby, they probably wouldn’t have cared even back then about a woman kissing another woman on the street. And kudos to the author for showing that a bisexual person can have a fulfilling relationship with a man.

In general, I enjoyed “Jane Steele” – it is a decent retelling, which I’m happy to give 7/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “Jane Steele” if you liked:

“The Fair Fight” by Anna Freeman;

“The Flight of Gemma Hardy” by Margot Livesey;

“Re Jane” by Patricia Park.

 

Have you read “Jane Steele”? What are your favourite Jane Eyre retellings? Tell me in the comments and don’t forget to stop by my Etsy charity shop!

 

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Book Review: Break Your Heart by Rhonda Helms

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I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Favourite quotes:

“Math is constant. It’s ordered. It’s comforting. And, frankly, it gets a bad rap. I think we need more women in math. We need more people of color in math”.

“Strength doesn’t mean doing everything alone. It can also mean knowing when you need help. Even if it’s just another person to talk to”.

“Sometimes you have to silence the noise around you to listen to what your heart is whispering”.

 

Megan Porter is a senior at prestigious college in Conencticut and she is very excited to start her mathematics graduate program in a few months. She loves math, she loves socialising and she is driven to succeed. But first, she has to get through senior year. And that means taking on brand new classes, meet new people, perhaps rekindle a few flames in between, and of course say goodbye to her roommate Casey who has plans to move in with her boyfriend soon.

One of the many exciting new things Megan is tackling is her cryptography class, and the teacher just happens to be her advisor. At least he was until he had a heart attack. The new teacher is Dr. Nick Muramoto, a professor who is ten years older than Megan, very enthusiastic about math and cryptography, and just happens to be very smart. And incredibly handsome. Obviously he is overseeing Megan’s thesis now. An attraction develops between them throughout their interactions, and soon they are unable to stay away from each other. But Nick just got tenure and he has a lot to lose. And so does Megan. But the more they try to pull away, the stronger they gravitate towards each other. Are their feelings worth risking what each of them has been striving to achieve their entire lives? And can Megan and Nick deal with the inevitable crash and burn when it comes?

 

The reason I haven’t written reviews in a while is because my tablet broke last month, and I couldn’t fix it until two days ago, so I didn’t have access to the majority of my books for almost a month. Yes, it was torture. But I was over the moon when I finally managed to fix it! And all by myself too! “Break Your Heart” was the first book that popped out on my newly restored Kindle, and I was in the mood for more New Adult after having finished the amazing “Off Campus” series.

Teacher-student romance are either a hit or a miss for me. “Break Your Heart” was most certainly a hit. Not only was I immensely pleased to read a book with an African-American protagonist with STEM aspirations and an Asian-American love interest, but I also appreciated that the book was well-written and characters weren’t caricatures and there “just to score diversity points”. They felt real and relatable, especially the women. Megan was obviously the star of the book, but her friends Casey and Kelly weren’t just there to fill in spots on the background. They had their own backstories that didn’t make the narrative all about Megan, which I really liked. And the female friendships in the book were also wonderful to read about. The male characters were a bit bland – there is a “nice guy”, an “uneducated entitled jock” or five, and other stereotypical college males. But this story wasn’t about them.

The character of Megan Porter is that of a modern young woman who is ambitious, driven and yet knows how to have fun and to capture a guy’s attention, and values life outside of work and academia. She might be a math enthusiast, but we can clearly see that family and friends would always come first for her. Before math, and most certainly before a guy, even one as amazing as a hot college professor who is very, very good in bed.

When it comes to romance, I understand that in a New Adult book, it is one of the primary subjects, but I don’t like when that’s all the book focuses on. Luckily, the author didn’t do that. True, the relationship between Megan and Nick took up a lot of the novel, but there were also subplots that focused on Megan dealing with issues many young women deal with today. Family, friendships, the future and other things that were important to Megan might have all been affected by the relationship, but we got to see how Megan dealt with them without making her life all about Nick, and that’s what’s important. The romantic scenes and the sex scenes were okay – I’ve read better, but I’ve been spoiled by Dahlia Adler, Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy who are so damn good at writing them they basically ruined sex scenes for me that are written by other writers.

I would certainly recommend “Break Your Heart” to fans of New Adult and to those who are looking for a nice way to spend an afternoon.

 

Recommendations

You might enjoy “Break Your Heart” if you liked:

“Last Will and Testament” by Dahlia Adler

“Easy” by Tammara Webber

“Pretty Little Liars”

 

Have you read “Break Your Heart”? Do you have a favourite teacher-student romance? Leave me a comment and tell me all about it! 🙂

Book Review: Stained Glass Shards by Rosemary Rey

stained-glass-shards

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Favourite quotes

“I’d never intended to release my identity. I didn’t want to go on a book tour, read passages at bookstores and libraries, or attend author signing events. I just wanted to write, spilling my innermost desires and fears so I didn’t have to make them a reality or live a lesser quality of life”.

“While looking through the glass, the mirrors reflected the brilliant colors he allowed me to see: his beauty, charming personality and sexual prowess. But in darkness, the kaleidoscope was just shards of glass reflected by angled mirrors”.

 

Griffin Belanger is a Hollywood heartthrob about to secure a role in a movie based on a romantic novel by author Claire Lark. Little does he know that the author of the book is his old college lover. The woman he loved yet could never tell her that.

Elyce Claire Fielding’s life used to be ordinary, her lover Griffin who pushed her to her limits being the most intense thing to ever happen to her. Upon realising his toxicity, Elyce lets him go and focuses all her energy on writing a romance novel about Ilieana Gardner and Tucker Frost. The story does have a happy ending, but not the way most traditional romantic stories do. No, the story of Ilieana is a story of growth, development and moving on. Which has been Elyce’s goal all along. Now that her book’s a bestseller and is being optioned for a movie, and Elyce is in a happy relationship with her agent Ritter, she believes that she can finally leave Griffin Belanger where he belongs – in the past. However, nothing stays in the past in Hollywood. Griffin is determined to win Elyce back. Elyce is focused on her new book and all her efforts to avoid Griffin seem to be in vain. Can the two ever reconcile? Or are the wounds of the past still too raw?

 

I’ve gone out with several guys who could only be called arseholes, but I am very fortunate to have avoided someone like Griffin Belanger. The male love interest in the book is a scumbag the likes of which can be compared to Christian Grey. The fact that “Stained Glass Shards” features chapters from his perspective, as well as Elyce’s, does very little to make him appeal to the reader. I can understand how Elyce can be compared to Anastasia Steele, but she is much less of a doormat. She had had to do quite a bit of growing up after Griffin ditched her, and also throughout the course of the novel – she did annoy me some by not standing up to Griffin, but by the end of the book, she’s found her footing. Not to say that I’m happy with how the book ended. In my opinion, neither Griffin nor Ritter deserved to be in the life of a girl like Elyce, who’s come a long way.

I’m not sure what annoyed me about Griffin the most – his sense of entitlement, the way he uses people, or his “manpains”. However, I could tell that unlike “Fifty Shades of Grey”, we are not meant to like the love interest. The author of “Stained Glass Shards” clearly intended for the reader to hate Griffin, even though, as I pointed out earlier, I didn’t really root for the other guy either. I rooted for Elyce and, apart from several second-hand moments of embarrassment (when Griffin was too good at manipulating her), she was worth rooting for. Not least because she is a writer who relied on her craft to get her through tough times, like I myself have done on many occasions.

“Stained Glass Shards” is a book-within-a-book – Elyce’s novel is being optioned for a movie and the book we’re reading features quite a few extras from that novel. Elyce based the plot on her own love affair with Griffin, and I appreciated how Rosemary Rey’s “Stained Glass Shards”‘ writing style and “Elyce’s” writing style were quite distinctive, which is a testament to the author’s writing talent. This is a romance novel, but it is definitely character-centric. My rating is 6.5/10.

 

Recommendations

You might like “Stained Glass Shards” if you liked:

“The Year We Fell Down” by Sarina Bowen

“The Key” by Victoria Darkins

“The Pentagon Group series” by Rosemary Rey

Have you read “Stained Glass Shards”? What are your favourite NA novels? Leave a comment and tell me! 🙂

Book Review: The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee

expats

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Favourite quotes:

“Human beings have figured out that to celebrate and feel happy, you need certain elements—people, music, alcohol—and that’s all it takes to create this feeling of celebration and acknowledgment of life and time passing. The rituals we make—the elaborate wedding, the twenty-first birthday—these all signal to the world outside the changes in one’s life.”

“This is what could kill you about children as you watched them: the way they slept, their open-mouthed unconscious faces, their frail collarbones, their defiant stance right before they cried, their innocence. Their crazy, heartbreaking innocence. It could really kill you, if you thought about it.”

“Can you suddenly be summoned into adulthood? Is it the same as being promoted and suddenly having to pretend you know how to be a boss, or getting your period or having sex and suddenly being on the other side, knowing what it’s all about?”

 

I was an international student in high school, university and grad school, and I was an expat in between and some time after these respective periods. So of course I was interested in reading fiction about people who have experienced similar things, especially a book with a diverse cast like “The Expatriates”. The novel is told from points of view of three women whose lives are intervowen in expats’ favourite city – Hong Kong – in a way that makes us believe that even the biggest cities can be so overwhelmingly small.

Margaret Reade is a freelance landscape desigher who followed her husband to Hong Kong and took their three children with them. Mercy Cho is a Korean American Ivy League graduate whose bad fortune leaves her with a string of one bad decision after another. Hilary Starr followed her lawyer husband to Hong Kong and is desperate for a child but has trouble connecting with kids, particularly one kid. A tragedy leaves Margaret despondent and numb and family devastated, and makes Mercy embark on even more self-destructive ventures. Meanwhile, Hilary’s laissers-faire attitude towards adopting a mixed-race child opens her to societal scrutiny, and her husband’s actions aren’t helping. The city of Hong Kong isn’t home to these women, but their position in that world is fragile and there are unspoken societal rules to be followed. After all, nobody wants to be alone in a foreign city where you don’t speak the language and need a source of income or to be a rock for your family. American expats in Hong Kong might have their own odd little community, but each member of that community has a different story and their own secrets and crosses to bear.

 

The three protagonists of “The Expatriates” are not likable in a traditional sense – they are flawed and real, which makes them very compelling. The book does have great descriptions which paint a clear picture of the Hong Kong expat society in a reader’s head, but the primary reason I was able to feel for Margaret, Mercy and Hilary, despite all their faults, is that the writing truly shows us a picture of who they are. I do mean shows, not tells – the author clearly knows the importance of that rule. That rule is broken when the author tells us what the characters are thinking and feeling, but that is done in a very believable way. Mercy, Margaret and Hilary aren’t perfect and the author doesn’t in any way try to present them as such. Perfect people don’t exist, and I don’t like seeing them in fiction either. Marriages aren’t perfect either, which is made very clear in this book – “Marriages are mysteries to everyone, most of all to the people in them, if they are not paying attention“. I’ve never been married and I’m not particularly keen on being married, but I know that the struggles every couple, every family experiences when their surrounding environment changes completely are very real. “The Expatriates” doesn’t gloss over these issues and problems – in fact, the author makes it quite a significant subplot, details of which I can’t divulge without spoiling anything.

It can be argued that while the novel is character-centric, the setting – modern-day Hong Kong – is no less significant. I love books where a setting could very well be a character in itself, and Hong Kong is such a complex, multi-layered city that it could very well be the fourth main character. I’ve never been unfortunately (not yet), and I was very pleased to see that the author doesn’t just describe the “glamorous” parts of the town tourists hear so much about and that are advertised as “expat heaven”. Cultural differences, sexism, racism and classism were never once glossed over, although we see them through the eyes of three privileged Americans. Indeed, class differences are a big subject in the novel, and the contrast between American expat community and their “help”, as well as the rest of the population is starking. I was an expat – not an American one but an expat nonetheless – and chances are that I might very well be one again someday – and I did see quite a few familiar behaviours in the book. Unfortunately, the lack of interest in the local culture, customs and language that’s demonstrated in the book was quite common amongst my expat contemporaries. When I’m in another city or country, even for a short time, I genuinely enjoy getting to know the local culture, the people and I truly believe that the best way to learn a language is to integrate yourself into the society. It baffled me how unwilling the people in “The Expatriates” were to learn Cantonese. Granted, languages are difficult and not everybody is a linguist, but still.

The city’s vivid atmosphere and the characters are what truly made “The Expatriates” an enjoyable and compelling novel, worth thinking about afterwards. My rating is 7.5/10.

 

Recommendations

You might enjoy “The Expatriates” if you liked:

“Girl in Translation” by Jean Kwok

“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“This Must Be the Place” by Maggie O’Farrell

 

Have you read “The Expatriates”? Do you have any favourite books about lives of expats? Leave me a comment! 🙂

Book Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

armada

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Favourite quotes

“I was staring out the classroom window and daydreaming of adventure when I spotted the flying saucer”.

“Extraterrestial visitors had permeated pop culture for so long that they were now embedded in humanity’s collective unconscious, preparing us to deal with the real thing, now that it was actually happening”.

“My heart was rocked by waves of unbridled joy. It occurred to me that up until this moment I’d only ever experienced the bridled kind. Having the reins slipped off my heart after a lifetime of wearing them was a bit overwhelming – in the best possible way”.

 

Ernest Cline’s sophomore novel is a story of Zack Lightman (his name is more superhero-y than Peter Parker), a teenage video game enthusiast who comes from a family of gaming enthusiasts, is surrounded by gaming enthusiasts, and obsessed with the idea of life being more like science fiction. In Zack’s mind, his dull life needs to turn around by virtue of a fantastic, straight-outta-his-favourite-video-game-called-Armada, event.

And one day, Zack’s wishes come true. He spots a UFO during a school day that is an exact replica of a battleship from Armada. The idea of the game is that the player has to protect the Earth from alien invaders. Zack is one of the best players there is – in fact, his handle IronBeagle is in the top ten. Number one is the mysterious RedJive, whom nobody has ever managed to beat. But everyone knows Armada is pure fiction, right? And Zack’s late father’s journals that tell a crazy tale of videogames being some sort of a battle camp that prepare you for a real war are just that – crazy. Right?

Wrong.

Zack’s excellent video gaming skills are, after all, going to be valuable in the real world. Turns out his father wasn’t that far off, and now the world needs Zack and everyone else in the top ten to defend the Earth from extraterrestial intelligence, as seen in Armada. But can Zack save the humanity from an interplanetary war? And even if a gang of plucky gamer geeks can somehow manage to “play their way” out of it, how do they know that Armada isn’t more dangerous than anyone realises?

 

I loved Ready Player One. Ernest Cline’s debut novel was one of the scariest, most interesting and most “fanboyish” books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. So needless to say, I had quite high expectations for “Armada” and have been waiting for it to come out. And while it wasn’t exactly a masterpiece like RPO, it didn’t let me down. In some ways, the reader can sense the elements RPO is riddled with – references to numerous sci-fi and fantasy things (I knew a lot more about stuff referenced in “Armada” than in “RPO” – I’m a 90s kid), young lad with a superhero name dreaming to save the world, a badass female love interest, and villain-y authority figures. In other words, “Armada” is quite tropey. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad sci-fi – just that it contains quite a few tropes from many other well-known science fiction works.

The writing in “Armada” was slightly less atmospheric than in Ready Player One, but then again, “Armada’s” overall plot is not the same as in “RPO”, despite all the similarities between the two books I just listed. In his debut novel, Cline has built an amazing world inspired by video games and 80s pop-culture, whereas in “Armada”, these elements serve more as MacGuffins, backdrops and props to move the story along, and thereby, less descriptive writing was required. The action sequences were quite decent, as was the witty banter and emotional relationships between the characters.

Essentially, “Armada” is a love letter to everything fictional and “geek things”. I have in mind a close friend of mine who would love it and would probably smile at all the references, especially since some of his favourite people make a cameo at one point. However, I am more of a fantasy geek/nerd than a sci-fi fan, even though I love me some aliens, so I didn’t fangirl as much as some people probably have upon seeing the references. I’m not much of a gamer, I didn’t like “Ender’s Game”, I didn’t like “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, and I’ve never seen “Star Wars” (yes I am that person), so I am probably the wrong audience for “Armada”.

It sounds as though I’m basing this review on how different/similar “Armada” is to “RPO”. Unfortunately, in this case it was inevitable, and given how much I loved “RPO”, all I can say is that I’m hoping to read more of Cline in the future, but I don’t know how well it’ll measure against the gem that is “Ready Player One” that’s arguably already becoming a cult classic. My rating of “Armada” is 6.5/10.

 

Recommendations

You might like “Armada” if you liked:

“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card

“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline

“Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clarke

 

Have you read any of Ernest Cline’s books? Which one did you like better? Do let me know in the comments! 🙂

Book Review: Zeroes by Scott Westerfield, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

zeroes

Favourite quotes

“Her parents didn’t understand that braille meant big clunky books that marked you as different, while audiobooks lived invisibly on your phone and text-to-speech gave you the whole damn internet”.

“It was a seriously dick move on the part of the universe: of everyone in this room, only he could see all those glimmers of awareness, feel them in his gut and as electricity on his skin. But the glimmers never found him in return, not in any group bigger than a half dozen people. That was what made him Anonymous”.

“She was the sunbeam – she was the sun, the source! She was full to bursting with post-crash power. She could see everything, feel everything, hold everything up forever if she wanted, let go anything she chose. Mega- or nanosized, she was master of it. She was a freaking Zero, man!”

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ethan’s Voice has landed him in trouble – again. All he really wanted was a ride home and what he got is all hell breaking loose. The Voice is a literal scammer – hence Ethan’s superhero nickname Scam. Well, actually it’s his Zero nickname.

What is a Zero, you ask? The Glorious Leader, a.k.a. Bellwether, a.k.a. Nate, chose the name “Zeroes” for a group of five teenagers who have superpowers. Except they aren’t your regular superpowers. Oh, they are cool and all, but they are also super lame. No laser eyes, no flying, no super-strength. These kids aren’t the Jessica Jones’ or Luke Cages of this world. They are just teens born in 2000 in Cambria, California. Last summer, the group fell apart, thanks to Ethan’s Voice, and now that the Voice has gotten him in trouble, the Zeroes have to reluctantly reunite to get him out of it. But can they work together again? And is there room for a sixth Zero whom Ethan’s Voice also gets in trouble during a bank robbery?

 

“Zeroes”. Starring:

Nate, a.k.a. The Glorious Leader a.k.a. Bellwether.

“He could see the shimmers of human interaction in the air. But his power was the reverse of Thibault’s – he could amp those connections stronger, especially at a crowded table. He took the joy of a big group eating good food after a successful mission and focused it, until it felt like he was the only other person in the world, shining his glorious light on you”.

This guy has the power of control. He is, quite literally, a control freak. He is able to focus the energy of a crowd on a particular subject (usually himself) and to manipulate it any way he chooses. He can make a crowd follow him, manipulate their emotions however he likes and make them believe what he wants them to believe. Advantages – he would make an awesome politician. Disadvantages – the power makes him kind of an asshole. At times, reading from his P.O.V. and even from other P.O.V.s about him made me quite uncomfortable. In fact, his power strongly reminded me of Kilgrave (Marvel), and the fact that Nate is just a sixteen-year-old kid made the effect even stronger. He is definitely an unreliable narrator and his motivations are quite unclear at times, both to the other characters and to the reader. It is quite obvious why he became the leader of the group, not least due to his power and charisma, but it is very unsettling to learn that he has a file on every member. On the one hand, he knows as much as the reader does about the ‘verse and why they have superpowers, so it’s understandable why he would want to learn more. On the other hand, however, it’s scary to think about what he could do with the information gathered and his power that can control the emotions of every other Zero. “Every power has a price” is a tagline of “Zeroes” and I feel that it is going to apply to all the Zeroes, but Nate the most.

 

Riley, a.k.a. Flicker.

“It took a while, even in the silence. But eventually her ears found the sound – someone breathing, soft and even. Someone she couldn’t throw her vision into, not even to find the sparkling rodes and cones of darkness”.

Flicker is a blind girl whose power is to see through other people’s eyeballs. I absolutely loved that the authors included a disabled character in the ensemble, and given her a very “unconventional” superpower. Being able to view a scene from every angle from the eyes of whomever Flicker wanted had come in handy for Zeroes during the events of the book, but it was also a dangerous power. Flicker had no control over what a person would be doing and could lose the “sight” at anytime the subject was asleep or had a bag over his head (yep, that happened on several occasions). Flicker was a lovely character who loved books and I could strongly relate to her love for fictional boyfriends – what bookworm couldn’t? Her past romance with Nate was hinted at, but I enjoyed reading about her relationship with another Zero a lot more – Nate’s superpower doesn’t bode well for relationships, I’m sure. Flicker’s P.O.V. was definitely one of the most interesting ones, and combined with her power, the effect was quite meta at times.

 

Chizara, a.k.a. Crash.

“Her reach was gigantic now, extending deep into the electronic forest of the neighbourhood around her. And she could hang on to everything, hold everything up, keep it moving. She was the world’s best juggler, juggling stars and roaring chain saws and balls of fire”.

Chizara was the character who was the most well-rounded and developed, in my opinion. Her power reminded me a little of Matthew Swift – she can crush electricity and any device or building that runs on it with the power of her mind. The internal struggle she experienced when she exercised the power at places like police stations and hospitals and went too far was shown very well in her P.O.V. The reader felt what she was feeling. Her narrative is probably one of the most emotional and engaging in the book (although I haven’t gotten to Anon yet), and there is a lot more to her character than just her superpower. The character growth she experiences does relate in many ways to the growth and development of her power, but she is probably the only Zero who doesn’t want to be a part of Nate’s group and can resist his influence. That’s probably going to lead to some more “interesting” encounters between the two in the later books in the series. All characters’ arcs are quite pivotal to the resolution of the plot, but Chizara’s arc ultimately turns out to be one of the most important ones in the end. Her struggle with her power and her fear of what it can do are explored very well, as I’ve already stated, and I can definitely see how her arc, which can traditionally be perceived as a villain’s, going to be anything but that in the later books, unlike Nate’s. The two arcs would be likely to be opposing forces at some point, and I am certainly looking forward to seeing how it would play out.

 

Ethan, a.k.a. Scam.

“The voice would get him into situations that only the voice could get him out of. Then he was stuck, listening and waiting. Letting it talk”.

Ethan’s power is not like the others’. His Voice knows the truth about other people and tells them exactly what they need to hear in order to serve Ethan’s interests. It works best in one-on-one interactions, whereas other Zeroes work best in a crowd. The Voice started speaking before Ethan himself could speak, which obviously resulted in a lot of issues. Ethan has the weakest control over his power out of all the Zeroes, and his Voice has gotten him in trouble a lot more than it helped him. The Voice tore Zeroes apart and brought them back together, albeit very reluctantly. The book starts with Ethan’s arc and the unfolding events that involve everyone else are majorly about him, but it never feels as though he is the main character, which was one of my favourite things about “Zeroes”. Having Ethan as the protagonist would be awful – he is a very whiny narrator and takes “doesn’t think before he speaks” to a whole different level. Despite his compelling backstory, he was the least interesting character of this installment.

 

Kelsie, a.k.a. Mob.

“Crowds were only good when they shared something. When they were united by a purpose or a beat. Then she could slip inside, be part of that something more”.

Kelsie is the newest Zero, and her power is somewhat similar to Nate’s except she moulds a crowd to feel and experience what she wants them to, make them feel better and more alive. Her backstory, unlike that of other Zeroes, has little to do with her power and a lot more to do with what she’s like as a character. Her P.O.V. is compelling and I feel that we’ve gotten to know her as a human character a lot more than a superhero. Ethan inadvertently makes her a part of his story arc and his and her narratives intervine the moment the Voice yells out her name to a bank robber’s face. The bank robber happens to be Kelsie’s father who tries his best to be there for her but is up to his ears in drug-related debts. The events that unfold following the robbery are largely about Ethan’s lack of common sense and control, but they also pull Kelsie in, and needless to say, she is quite happy to find others like her. I look forward to seeing what the newest addition to the team of Zeroes would bring.

 

Thibault, a.k.a. Anon.

“Wisdom tells me I’m nothing. But love tells me I’m everything”.

I saved the best, and the saddest, for last. Anon’s power is literally that – he is Anonymous. He is forgotten as soon as he’s out of sight. Forgotten by everybody. Including his family. Including his friends. Including hospital staff. Thibault “Teebo” is not invisible, but he might as well be. Tall, dark, handsome, smart, kind teenage boy has to survive any way he can – be it on the streets or squatting in hotel rooms and ordering room service because his family can’t remember who he is. He finally seemed to find his place in the world amongst Zeroes, but even they constantly forget that he exists. Nate’s file on him is the biggest one Nate has – Bellwether is clearly obsessed with Anon’s powers and the relationship between the two is definitely something that should be explored. His relationships with other characters is one of the many things that makes him the most interesting Zero. Whether it’s his strange friendship with Nate, his reluctant partnership with Ethan and Kelsie or his romance with Flicker, the interactions are wonderful to read about, and at times, heartbreaking. I absolutely loved how Flicker’s love for books and fictional boyfriends lead her and her sister to create a story of “a boy called Nothing” in order to re-create the few memories of Thibault that she managed to hold on to, and eventually to fall in love with the real boy called Nothing, who was really Everything. This is one of the few books where characters develop a relationship in a short amount of time and it is actually compelling. Relationships and interactions, were, however, just a minor faucet of what made Thibault the amazing character that he was. His backstory and ongoing arc of the book were emotional, gripping and they hurt. A lot. Thibault might be forgettable to the characters, and might believe himself to be Anonymous, but he is certainly the most memorable to the reader.

 

Out of all three authors of “Zeroes” I’ve only read one. “Afterworlds” by Scott Westerfield was one of my favourite reads of 2015, so I didn’t hesitate to request “Zeroes” when it became available on Netgalley. As you can see from the above ramblings of mine, the cast of this book is diverse, interesting and makes for some incredibly interesting interactions. Indeed, I felt that the first installment of the “Zeroes” series served more as an introduction to the ensemble cast and a chance for the reader to see how they would function in a typical action-y situation, as well as who they are and what we can expect from them in the future installments. The book was very fast-paced, bar the first couple of chapters, and sometimes it was so intense that I had to put down my e-reader and walk around for a bit. I certainly enjoyed the action, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy getting to know the characters even more. Superhero books can be a hit or a miss, and “Zeroes” was certainly a hit. There is a lot more to the book than just superhero action – the characters are incredibly well-written and fleshed out, which isn’t really that surprising given that all three authors are experienced YA writers. The cast is diverse – we have a Hispanic boy (Nate), a blind girl (Flicker), a Nigerian girl (Chizara), a French boy (Thibault) and a white boy and girl (Ethan and Kelsie). All of them come from different social backgrounds and have vastly different personalities. The P.O.V. switches were every few pages, and they were all third-person, but it was quite easy to tell who was narrating. None of them were too reliable, but each narrative was compelling and engaging in its own way. I think Chizara’s and Anon’s were my favourite story arcs, as you’ve probably gathered by now, but I’m certainly excited to see how Nate’s motivations and power would play out in his interactions with others in the future installments.

I would certainly be continuing with this series and I would love to see a TV adaptation of it. My rating is 8/10.

 

Dreamcast

Ethan (Scam) – Anton Yelchin

Kelsie (Mob) – Chloe Grace Moretz

Chizara (Crash) – Zoe Kravitz

Nate (Bellwether) – Jesus Zavala

Riley (Flicker) – Elle Fanning

Thibault (Anon) – Jeremy Kapone

 

Recommendations

You might enjoy “Zeroes” if you liked:

“The Affinities” by Robert Charles Wilson

“I Crawl Through It” by A.S. King

“Jessica Jones”

Have you read “Zeroes” yet? Do you agree with my dreamcast? Do let me know!

Book Review: The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

steep thorny

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

There is a troubling undercurrent rumbling beneath the surface of the town of Elston, Oregon, and it’s particularly troubling for Hanalee Denney, a sixteen-year-old daughter of an African-American man and a white woman. Hanalee’s dad Hank was murdered last Christmas by a drunk driver, Joe Adler, and a few months later, Joe is out of jail and back in town. To add to the grief his return is causing Hanalee, the Ku Klux Klan is breeding fear and hatred across Elston in their attempt to “purify” Oregon of everyone who isn’t white, Protestant, American-born or heterosexual. Hanalee’s friends are abandoning her one by one, and her father’s alleged murderer is suddenly claiming that the man who actually killed Hanalee’s father is the town doctor who tried to save him and who happens to be Hanalee’s new stepfather. Does Hank Denney’s ghost, or a “haint” hold the answers Hanalee is so desperate to find? And will she be able to solve the mystery and to cope with the devastating results that she finds?

 

My readers probably know by now that I believe that it’s impossible for Cat Winters to ever write a bad book. “The Steep and Thorny Way” is definitely her best book to date – and the darkest. I’ve been known to spend hours in front of a Cat Winters book and finishing in a day. The same happened when I started “The Steep and Thorny Way” – thankfully, it was a weekend so I didn’t have to go to work. The novel is gripping. It’s devastating. And it’s honest and real. The emotions are very, very, real.

Winters’ fans know all about her talent to masterrfully convey the atmosphere of a setting in writing, and in “TSaTW” the reader can’t help but feel as though they are also a part of Elston, Oregon of the 1920s. Unfortunately, that setting has little beauty in it. It is very scary to think about the fact that the travesties described in the novel occurred less than a hundred years ago. Every page is saturated with despair and sadness of those times and thanks to Winters’ writing talent, the reader feels them as much as the characters. Hanalee, Joe and their  families are devastated by what is happening in their town, but they are the kinds of characters that don’t give up. Hanalee, for instance, is fully aware that there are few good things awaiting her in the future if she stays in Elston, but it doesn’t deter her from pursuing her dreams of becoming a lawyer. She is kind, smart and compassionate, despite all the atrocities American laws and Elston society put her through on a daily basis.

The novel is marketed as a retelling of “Hamlet” – one of my favourite works of Shakespeare. In a way, it is – you can see it in certain passages and characters. And of course, the murder most foul of the novel initially seems to parallel that of “Hamlet”. However, nothing is ever what it seems in Cat Winters’ books, and “TSaTW” is no exception. Given the setting, I knew that the solution to the mystery was not going to be a happy one – plus  “Hamlet” is a tragedy for a reason. It was, however, nothing I expected it would be and all the more devastating for it. Winters uses paranormal elements as plot devices quite a few times in her books, but they are only there to further highlight the devastation and the hatred that was a big part of those times. “The Steep and Thorny Way” uses these scary elements in a manner similar to “Hamlet”, but other than that, the fear we feel in this book comes from the villains that were very real. There is little need for additional fantasy elements – history provides us with enough source material for antagonists. Hanalee and Joe are in constant danger because of who they are – a biracial girl and a homosexual young man. Ku Klux Klan, eugenics and general prejudices not only prevent Hanalee and Joe from living carefree lives, but they make them constantly fear for their very lives. Things are somewhat better today than they were back then, but diseases like racism, xenophobia and homophobia are unfortunately still a very big part of our society. And this is why we need diverse books like “The Steep and Thorny Way” – to remind us that these disgusting things occurred not so long ago and that prejudice and discrimination are something to be fought on a daily basis.

“The Steep and Thorny Way” is emotional, gripping and absolutely amazing. I cannot wait for my next Cat Winters! My rating is 8.5/10. Once again, my only issue with Cat Winters’ books is the lack of sequels!

 

Favourite quotes:

“Hate is a powerful demon that worms its way into the hearts of fearful men”.

“I think love and wrong are two deeply unrelated words that should never be thrown into the same sentence together. Like dessert and broccoli.”

“Candlelight cast such a delicate beauty. It flickered with emotions and warmed one’s skin and soul”.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “The Steep and Thorny Way” if you liked:

“The Diviners” by Libba Bray

“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare 

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee