books · discussions · not books · Shar

On science, reading, and why I’ve been getting into more nonfiction of late

^^^ I hope this post lives up to its title hahaha I titled if before I started writing. As you may know, I’m a science student. Most of the book bloggers I know that have been/are at university are doing arts. This post is about why science people often disregard reading (fiction) and why I think this is silly.

Continue reading “On science, reading, and why I’ve been getting into more nonfiction of late”

book review · shanti

The Last Beginning review

The Last Beginning was thoroughly disappointing. I read it mostly because, when I read The Next Together two years ago, there were a great deal of unanswered questions and I wanted answers. Everyone who has read it seemed to have enjoyed it, and judging by social media and her excellent third book, Lauren James is a cool person. How let down I was.

24550848Sixteen years ago, after a scandal that rocked the world, teenagers Katherine and Matthew vanished without a trace. Now Clove Sutcliffe is determined to find her long lost relatives. But where do you start looking for a couple who seem to have been reincarnated at every key moment in history? Who were Kate and Matt? Why were they born again and again? And who is the mysterious Ella, who keeps appearing at every turn in Clove’s investigation?

For Clove, there is a mystery to solve in the past and a love to find in the future. (blurb from goodreads)
I couldn’t help but compare The Last Beginning to another time travel book I’ve read this year: Invictus by Ryan Graudin. It’s tightly plotted, easily explained without infodumping, and clear. You understand how the time travel works, the nature of paradoxes, and how and why the characters do research to blend in. There is none of that in The Last Beginning. Clove is, to be frank, a complete idiot. She turns up in the past with a dress which is an romanticized approximation of historical dress, and then travels with no flipping clue if it’s going to work or not. Obviously, it does. Then she’s wandering around with no clue how to blend in or where to go TELLING PEOPLE THEIR FLIPPING FUTURE LIKE AN ABSOLUTE IDIOT. I have never time travelled or taken a physics class, but even I know that that is a BIG NO NO OH MY GOSH. Then it changes the future, and then she has to fix it. I didn’t mind that Clove was thoughtless or whingy; she’s sixteen, that’s forgiveable. But she’s supposed to be smart, and she absolutely does not behave like that. How could no one in the past—surely some of them aren’t time travelers have noticed how out of place she was? So that bothered me.
There were several things that made no sense in this, and James doesn’t even try to explain (I get that she has science degrees, yay, but the science seems thin imo. She is tangled in the practical sciency bits and the romantic possibilities, which contributes to the chaotic, all-over-the-place nature of the book; there is no attempt to bridge these dual possibilities, unlike what Graudin does so masterfully). The plot lacks coherency; it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and contorts strangely to involve documents and explanations for The Next Together. It works only because it is clamped to the events of that book, and not because it has any meaning on its own. It’s a shallow sort of book, and my lack of engagement with it reflects that.
I also found the writing exceptionally juvenile. It could be that I’m getting too old for YA, but there are such swathes of sophisticated YA with elegant writing that it’s hard to blame that. Lines like “she had never expected anything like this to ever happen to her”, or “she was never going to talk to Meg ever again” felt overwrought, excessively dramatic. Maybe it’s just Clove’s voice. And everything the parents (Jen and Tom) say is blatant and cheesy. I mean, the writing got the job done, but it certainly grated at me in places.
I didn’t mind the characters. That is, they were idiots, but they were lovable idiots. We have Clove, teen with a mission! and lots of moaning and melodrama, but that comes with the territory. There’s Spart, your average robot with a personality; Ella, mysterious for no reason; and the various Katherine and Matt’s, adorkable and straightforward. Because the documents make it clear that Ella and Clove are endgame, I never felt invested in their relationship. None of the characters were very dynamic, but they were probably too confused by the time travel.
I think I sound angry at this book, and I’m really not. It was not entirely without merit; the fact that I finished it says that alone. It just…oh, I don’t know. Rubbed me up the wrong way. All of these reviews are so positive, and I didn’t find that as I read. The Last Beginning is tangled in the beginnings and the legends; it doesn’t take a step back and see the bigger picture and that, to me, was the saddest thing about it.

Well that was quite ranty! whoops… I think it’s really hard to get time travel books right and maybe (just maybe) I have high standards. anyway have you read this? and what’s a book that was ruined in details for you?

book review · books · shanti

Unearthing (mysteries and more)

I’m convinced that Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner are two of the few people who make me amenable to sci-fi. It’s been over two years since I reviewed their last co-written novel, Their Fractured Light. Unearthed has many things similar to their previous trilogy: dual narration between a boy and girl, the worlds of space to explore, and great mystery (or perhaps even conspiracy). Unearthed is completely compelling; fast and angry and eager, just like the two characters at its’ heart. I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending and one character development thing, but apart from that, it was great. I have never watched Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider, the two comparison titles for this novel, but I loved the adventure and space setting of this novel, and the romance is a lot of fun too. Continue reading “Unearthing (mysteries and more)”

blogging · book review · books · shanti

Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Invictus is as glorious as it is shiny. Time travel novels always have the potential to fail because they are too confusing, and I’m not going to say that Graudin avoids this entirely; she does not. However, she succeeds on a higher level: her story, as well as being a hell of a lot of fun has really excellent Indian rep possibly the best I’ve ever seen or at the very least the one I most related too in YA and yes I have read When Dimple Met Rishi but more on that later juggles the anxiety and joy that even the mere concept of time travel, let alone it’s all-pervading role in a story, can evoke. Continue reading “Invictus by Ryan Graudin”

book review · books · Shar · Uncategorized

Review: Want

I *claim* to be a fan of the sic-fi genre. I’ve said before that it’s my favourite. But it has come to my attention that I read far more contemporary and fantasy than sci-fi, which is shameful. So as soon as I heard about Want and realised it was sci-fi/dystopian then I knew I had to read it. So I did. want-by-cindy-pon

Title: Want

Author: Cindy Pon

Genre: YA Sci-fi

Themes: deception, pollution, climate change, activism, friendship, rich people are literally bubble heads.

My blurb: In futuristic Taipei, there are two types of people. The ultra-rich yous protect themselves from the terrible pollution with oxygen suits and money, while the meis die young, suffering from all the environmental degradation and their poverty. After someone Zhou loves is murdered trying to bring in new environment laws, he and his friends decide they’ve got to do something to get back at the corporation who is responsible. But their plan is risky and the first thing they need is a lot of money. Zhou’s actions are about to get him into a game of deception and risk where he might lose sight of the end goal…

There were a lot of good things about this book, but first I have to complain about something important. Namely, the writing style. I haven’t read anything by Cindy Pon before, but the way this book was written really affected my perception of the story. The book required a lot of worldbuilding because of its dystopian nature, but instead of showing aspects of the world of pollution and global warming and poverty inequality, it was totally told. Especially at the start of the book, the writing had what felt like paragraphs spouting information that wasn’t always that relevant, though it did help paint the scene. At other times Jason (that’s his code name—we never learn his real first name, which is weird) comes up with information that you wish he’d announced earlier, like ‘oh I was not sick now because I had the flu when I was 10’ or ‘this person said X important thing to me the other day’ instead of actually showing it happening. This made it feel like the things being narrated didn’t happen.

The writing was also occasionally confusing, especially during action scenes, and there was a big reveal at the end that wasn’t made to feel that big. The book opens on an action scene, then goes back to ‘two months earlier’ to explain what’s going on. After that, though, there is no explanation of the time gaps, even though it becomes evident that weeks or months have passed with only a few days or events having been described. Generally, something about the writing style really made me feel disconnected from Jason and the other characters, even though it was a first person narration, which normally is easier for me to connect to.

However, there were some good things about this book. Firstly, I really liked how it was set in Taiwan, because I’ve never read any other books set there (and the author was born there) and my ex really good friend is Taiwanese. I liked the descriptions of food and although it made the future look bleak, it wasn’t hopeless either.

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I also liked how it dealt with wealth inequality, something that’s rapidly becoming a bigger problem and environmental degradation. I personally believe both of these are going to be big problems in the future and I don’t get why more dystopias don’t tackle them. Like I don’t think the US is going to become a monarchy that likes to play games to amuse the prince and help him find a wife. But growing commercialism, the ethics of surveillance without consent, bio-warfare and deadly viruses, and poverty and climate change are all things that are already problems now and will be in the future. I liked how this book touched on all of these.

Also, I just generally love sci-fi and dystopia, not gonna lie.

 

I really liked the love interest character! I liked how she wasn’t only petite and subservient, but she wasn’t just the Stronge Female CharacterTM archetype. She was a combination of all of them. Jason’s ‘gang’ and all the minor charcters were really interesting.

The plot was intense and usually interesting. I liked how I thought the plot was going to centre around all of Jason’s deceptions getting him into trouble and be something where nothing would happen if everybody was honest, but it wasn’t.

Overall, I liked the idea of this book, and it definitely tackled some good topics, but failed to execute them well enough to make me like it.

Characters: 3/5

Writing: 1/5

Setting: 4/5

Plot: 4/5

Total: 3/5

Have you heard of this? What other books have you read set in South east/East Asia? (I need recommendations) Is there a genre you claim to love, but never read? What have you read which has a really great concept but not as good writing?

books · discussions · shanti

Moving on Companionably; on companion novels

Hello Virtually Readers! So in the last few weeks I’ve read several sets of companion novels. The first was the Six Impossiverse series by Fiona Wood, three contemporary stories featuring Australians. The second was Dramatically Ever After, the sequel to Bookishly Ever After, which I liked even more than the first book. I’m also partway through What I Thought Was True, a companion novel to My Life Next Door and the Boy Most Likely To. These are all companion novels, so I thought I’d talk a little more about what companion novels are and are not today. Yay!

companions.jpg

So what is a companion novel? Without any research, I can tell you that it’s a book that’s in the same universe as other books by the same author, but usually featuring different characters and different themes. Some series do have changing protagonists, so what makes companion series different from normal series is that a companion novel does not continue the overarching plot of the main series.

The Six Impossiverse and the Ever After books are two examples of how companion series can work. The Six Impossiverse has three books, so far. The first one focuses on themes of family and friendship, the second on ideas of identity and loss, the third on identity, but in a much more specific way, poverty, and belief. Each book has a similar format, though, focusing on one or two characters struggles over about a term in the Australian school system, leading up to some ‘big event’ or ‘realisation’ at the end (which is pretty typical for stories anyway). There is one character who appears in all three books, and quite a few who appear in the second and third book (by publication order). Basically, the themes and characters are different, but the format and content are the same.

companion1.jpg

In the Ever After books, only two of which are out so far, the themes of identity, new relationships, and confidence in yourself remain between the two books. They have a similar ‘feel’ of coziness and fun, but the characters are different. In Bookishly Ever After, the story is set partially during the term and then during a summer camp, with excerpts from various (fake) YA novels. Dramatically Ever After is set a few months later, focusing on Phoebe’s best friend, and set (mostly) over the course of a week at a conference which Em is attending, with excerpts from emails and social media chats.

These are two ways to write companion novels, and both make quite a lot of sense. One is to keep the themes the same but vary the characters, content, and format. The other is to have similar formats but to make the style and themes quite different. There are probably other ways to do it—for example with companion series like Cassandra Clare or Tamora Pierce’s books, the idea of becoming yourself and conquering a war or evil remains, but in totally different ways.

I like reading companion novels for a lot of reason. For one, it’s really nice to get ‘updates’ on where your characters are. With contemporary novels, authors often feel compelled to create ‘drama’ in sequels, break up friendships and couples for the sake of plot, and that’s kind of irritating if you ask me. So I like the this way, that doesn’t have to happen. In fantasy books, or even contemporary, it’s interesting to see a different perspective on the same events, or a different part or time of the world. Contemporary novels make all the other books in the series richer. But because there are often big shifts in characters, content matter, or themes, and each novel can stand by itself, I don’t feel like I have to read the whole series to know how the story goes.

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The lines can get a bit blurred—for example, Morgan Matson’s books contain cameos from her other series but I’m not sure if that is enough to count as companion novels, because those easter eggs don’t necessarily make a story richer. In the same way, with My Life Next Door and The Boy Most Likely To, the two books have basically the same set of characters and are set very closely in time and place, but with different key characters and themes—TBMLT is ultimately a lot grittier. And so far, What I Thought Was True seems to be almost totally separate. Gemina and Illuminae are companions in the sense that the main characters change, but the overarching plot of evil BeiTech remains. So the line can blur quite easily. Companion novels are interesting for this reason, and as such, and integral part of the discussion about series and why they’re good and why they’re irritating (the story just goes on!)

What do you think of companion novels? What are some of your favourite ones? Tell me in the comments.

book review · books · shanti

The Forgetting: ceaseless, surprising

What does it mean to be made of your memories? That’s the question Sharon Cameron tackles in The Forgetting. I had no idea what I was in for when I started the audiobook, and that was a big contributing factor to my enjoyment. Basically The Forgetting is set in a city where every 12 years, everyone’s memories are erased. And there are a whole lot of dodgy things going on, so the (remembering) protagonist, Nadia, has to figure that out. I really loved the structure of the story and Nadia’s characterisation. 

28691932What isn’t written, isn’t remembered. Even your crimes.

Nadia lives in the city of Canaan, where life is safe and structured, hemmed in by white stone walls and no memory of what came before. But every twelve years the city descends into the bloody chaos of the Forgetting, a day of no remorse, when each person’s memories – of parents, children, love, life, and self – are lost. Unless they have been written.

In Canaan, your book is your truth and your identity, and Nadia knows exactly who hasn’t written the truth. Because Nadia is the only person in Canaan who has never forgotten.

But when Nadia begins to use her memories to solve the mysteries of Canaan, she discovers truths about herself and Gray, the handsome glassblower, that will change her world forever. As the anarchy of the Forgetting approaches, Nadia and Gray must stop an unseen enemy that threatens both their city and their own existence – before the people can forget the truth. And before Gray can forget her.
I did struggle a little with the writing style–it’s a very ‘tell not show’ kind of writing, which was okay, but I think it could have been a little more subtle. The other thing was that there were a few holes in the explanations–e.g., wouldn’t parents describe their children in their books so that they could access it after The Forgetting.
The best thing about this book is that it is a surprise. I listened to the first few chapters, and thought I had a pretty clear idea of what shape the book was taking. A few revelations late, I had changed my mind completely, and I only had an idea of the ‘real’ shape of the story in the last few hours. This makes a novel so interesting to read–the perpetual surprises are intriguing. The pace of the story is weird–it’s not quite your triangle rising action climax stuff; it’s a gentle unearthing of the secrets of Canaan and it’s residents. The structure of the story is incredibly compelling, and I loved how particular scenes morphed into what you didn’t expect–the anguish of Nadia’s mother, the secrets of the mountain, the structure of the council, the agony of a lost father, the mystery of both remembering and forgetting. The world Cameron creates is vivid and her story works organically with it.
I also loved Nadia as a character. The inclusion of her silence was an interesting additional element, and I really loved that this made all the words she did say so much more powerful. She doesn’t feel like she is part of her family, because she remembers, and they don’t. She’s exceptionally vulnerable, and exceptionally curious, and the power of her curiousity is what pushed her over the wall, more than the need for rations. I loved that she was curious, but also uncertain. She’s definitely a flawed character–impulsive and rude, and just bad at making decisions, but that’s part of what makes her interesting. She was a really appealing character.
This story offers opportunity for all sorts of thoughts on the nature of forgetting and memory, and what it means for identity. But Cameron doesn’t worry too much about drawing conclusions from that. She just presents the characters, their response and fears and longings, and the a-bit-too-obvious sections from Nadia’s various books. I really appreciated that–it’s done in a subtle, nuanced way that is simply enjoyable.

What’s your favourite amnesia book (there are a lot of them out there?) and have you read this one? tell me in the comments!

book review · books · shanti · Uncategorized

#LoveOzYA and also this book

In case you haven’t heard of it, Begin, End, Begin, is a short story collection by a bunch of Australian Young Adult authors, and I adored it. Each story was excellent, and the authors I hadn’t read made me want to try out their full-length work(Will Kostakis and Alice Pung, I’m coming for you. I like short fiction, because it’s like dipping your toe into a story, and not worrying too much about info dumps or even background info. The story is a perfect capsule in and of itself, and it’s such a joy to have a variety of tales all together. Each author just really got teenagers.

30844667The YA event of the year. Bestsellers. Award-winners. Superstars. This anthology has them all. With brilliantly entertaining short stories from beloved young adult authors Amie Kaufman, Melissa Keil, Will Kostakis, Ellie Marney, Jaclyn Moriarty, Michael Pryor, Alice Pung, Gabrielle Tozer, Lili Wilkinson and Danielle Binks, this all-new collection will show the world exactly how much there is to love about Aussie YA.
One Small Step My only critique is that Kaufman seemed to be trying a bit too hard to tick aalllll the diversity boxes? But it was a lot of fun. I loved the setting on Mars, and this one had lots of action. I also liked how it confronted what you do after school, because it’s been something that’s on my mind a lots lately.
I Can See the Ending I definitely didn’t expect this one to have a magical realism twist. It was nicely incorporated into the story without too much spaced wasted on explanations. Anyway, Kostakis has this excellent way of showing what it means to embrace a relationship, and what a struggle that can be.
In a Heartbeat I loved this concept, and how the central tension between the narrator and her mother was resolved–not perfectly, but realistically–as well as dealing iwht what it means to be a good mother and accept responsibility. The flashbacks and format as a letter were also excellent.
First Casualty I have no idea who Michael Pryor is, but this was a really sensitive, galactic way of approaching xenophobia, in society and within ourselves. It’s not easy, but it was lots of fun.
Sundays I’ve read Cinnamon Girl and Outer Space, and I think I liked them more than this? I loved the ‘group friendship/relationships are complicated’ thing, and the movement through the part lent the story a lot of dynamism
Missing Persons Whoops, I accidentally forgot everything about the Every trilogy which I didn’t finish. Anyway, this kind of stands alone, and has friendship and not much crime, which I liked.
Oona Underground I love Lili Wilkinson’s cute contemporary, but this had a darker vibe. I liked the idea of finding your way amidst mystery and silence, and trusting in your relationships.
The Feeling From Over Here I just had to look this one up in my ebook because it’s very forgettable. Again, I appreciated the contained format, and it’s easy to read, but the characters don’t have much nuance. Anyway. Gabrielle Tozer is still great.
Last Night at the Mount Solemn Observatory This was really fun. I found that it was subtle in all the right ways–the inclusion of a variety of characters was seamless, and it dealt with that central YA concern of figuring out who you are without someone else, in this case an older brother.
Competition Entry #349 Jaclyn Moriarty is WONDERFUL. Her minimalist worldbuilding was EXQUISITE and I liked the way this story looked at how one person’s experience is just one way to view an event–there’s always other things going on, and time travel can reveal that. oh, and it’s really funny!
If you love Australian authors or YA in general, this is a top notch collection that will make you feel so understood. I’m so glad it exists!

have you read many short stories? tell me in the comments!

books · shanti · tags

The School Book Tag

Hi Virtually Readers! I’m quite excited right now because I finally have break (for like 6 days, but it’s still break) And the incredible Holly@Nut Free Nerd tagged us for the School Book Tag so I’m going to do that (after having a small fight with Shar about who does tags–sorry, Shar) I’m still in school, so I might mix it up a bit to match the classes I actually take. We’ll see.



1. Math; a book that left your head spinning

I mean, I feel like this question is a bit unfair to maths. But the intensity of The Future Collection by BethRevis (a bunch of creepy sci fi short stories) definitely got to me.

2. English; a book with beautiful expression

There are so many! But I really loved the poetry of only the sea keeps, a poetry collection about the 2004 tsunami, and the nuance and detail of Crimson Bound, a dark, edgy, lovely Red Riding Hood retelling.

3. Physics Psychology; a scientifically minded character

I really loved learning about the science of Wanda from The Host. She’s a great traveller and very curious.

4. Chemistry; Your favourite literary couple

I love a lot of couples, so I always find these superlatvie questions hard. But Evie and Ollie from Am I Normal Yet? have a really great tension and relationship (though they take a long time to get together)

5. Biology; Your favourite character

Again, this is the kind of question which it’s always so hard to answer. I really like Daisy’s  (from Revived) spunk and curiousity. Beneath her weird home life (she’s died many times) she just wants to be a good friend, and is struggling to figure out what that means. Bonus points to another character who comes back to life: Wren, from Reboot. (These aren’t necesserily my favourite characters, but just two I like)

6. French Hindi: A book from another language

I really love Fire and The Key, which were translated from Swedish. Witches, friendship, death, apocalypse, magic, and high school; what combination could be better, right?

7. Art; a book you judged by its cover

I got the hardcover edition of Out of the Easy because it was the same price, and so pretty. I love that muted gree colour, and think the visual elements are totally intriguing too.

8. History; The last historical book you read

I read Tom Standages’ An Edible History of Humanity a few weeks ago, and loved how it used one lense to look at so much important, fascinating stuff.

9. Geography; a literary destination you’d like to visit

I’ve got to say Tortall, from Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small, Song of the Lioness, Immortals, and Beka Cooper series. There’s going to be a new book about Numair and I’m thrilled.

10. Drama; a book with a lot of overdramatic hype

Our Chemical Hearts. I was so excited for this one because SCHOOL NEWSPAPER is something that’s really important to me (though sometimes I’m not sure why haha) but it was ultimately disappointing. I also watched The Breakfast Club a few days ago because it’s so famous that I thought I should; but found it dreadful, and loathed the general experience (which I could rant about for a long time, but I’ll spare you)

I tag….

Eli @ The Silver Words

Sophia @ Ravens and Writing Desks

Marie @ Drizzle and Hurricane Books

What is/was your favourite subject at school (Geography and history and english for me)? And are there any books that you’ve learnt a lot from?