Book Review of A Thousand Pieces of You, or How to Escape

A Thousand Pieces of You (Firebird, #1)A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray
My rating: 5 of 5 stars (in GoodReads); here: 10 out of 10 stars.

 

 

 

I have a confession to make: I think I’m becoming an adrenaline junkie of a reader. I hadn’t read more than four paragraphs into A Thousand Pieces of You, and I knew I was going to love it. These are them:

My hand shakes as I brace myself against the brick wall. Rain falls cold and sharp against my skin, from a sky I’ve never seen before. It’s hard to catch my breath, to get any sense of where I am. All I know is that the Firebird worked. It hangs around my neck, still glowing with the heat of the journey.

There’s no time. I don’t know whether I have minutes, or seconds, or even less. Desperately I tug at these unfamiliar clothes–the short dress and shiny jacket I wear have no pockets, but there’s a small bag dangling from my shoulder. When I fish inside, I can’t find a pen, but there’s a lipstick. Fingers trembling, I unscrew it and scrawl on a tattered poster on the wall of the alley. This is the message I must pass on, the one goal I have to remember after everything else I am is gone.

KILL PAUL MARKOV.

Then I can only wait to die.

Whoa, right? After reading those words, you feel every bit as disoriented as the main character, Marguerite Caine, who has just traveled to a dimension parallel to our own in pursuit of the person she believes killed her father, who helped invent the Firebird, the mechanism that enabled her and her father’s killer to jump their consciousnesses into their parallel selves in other dimensions. A Thousand Pieces of You is a wild chase across a number of different realities, based on the theory of parallel worlds or universes, which posits that every decision every person makes creates a reality, and the alternatives of those decisions play out in other whole universes very similar to ours, infinitely numbered and populated.

Book Review of a Thousand Pieces of You

While this book is not the first to explore in fiction the possible ramifications of the discovery of and ability to travel to these parallel worlds, it is one of the first that I’m aware of that does so in the young adult genre. The main character is a teenage girl, the daughter of two brilliant physicists who have discovered that there are countless parallel dimensions and as well as a way to travel between them. She takes that journey to avenge her father’s death. The voice is very much young adult, with Marguerite’s main concern, even given the gravity of her circumstances, being which of  the two main young male characters is truly worthy of her affection.

It’s fascinating to me that while the premise of the book could have led to so many plot twists that it could have come too confusing to keep track of that Gray manages to wield just enough of them to make the plot unpredictable but not complicated. This book has two sequels—Ten Thousand Skies Above You and A Million Worlds With You—in which that does become more of an issue. But even then, Gray names each of the five or so universes–Russiaverse, Triadverse, etc.–and makes each very distinct. The author does a good job of weaving consistent elements throughout, describing key details well, and giving just the right amount of emotional description.

Of course, the premise also lends itself well to a variety of unpredictable settings: alternate dimensions that are either super-futuristic, rustic and Russian, aquatic, or otherwise. They are vividly and efficiently shown. In another book, the writer could have gotten so caught up in the description of each of these different settings that it would’ve slowed the plot to a crawl; I can certainly see the temptation. But she doesn’t.

So do yourself a favor: go out and get this book! My used hardback copy was $6 on Amazon; as of today, the site still has over 100 used and new copies for $2 to $3. (No, they did not pay me to say that.)

 

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Book Review: Machinations by Hayley Stone: Amazing Read

I don’t understand why everyone’s not raving about Machinations by Hayley Stone. It’s a book set during a robot apocalypse, populated by people fighting for their lives and a main character who was killed by the robots and then brought back as a clone and expected to lead those people while trying to carve out a new life among old and new enemies,  and, most importantly, with her original’s boyfriend (who she thinks of as her own). It sounds like it might be difficult to follow for any number of reasons, not the least of which might be the fact that such extreme circumstances might not appeal to mainstream audiences. But anyone who enjoys good writing should read this book, and join with me in their praise of it.

 

Book Review: Machinations

 

Indeed, I suspect that those who do read it will marvel, as I did, at the ease with which Stone makes such extreme circumstances plausible and strange characters relatable. But make no mistake, a lot of effort had to’ve gone into fleshing out the premise without making it ponderous, and infusing it with real emotion as opposed to stoicism or melodrama. I think the book’s genius is the fact that it focuses on the people and the emotions they experience as they’re pinned down in a defunct military base; it makes for great suspense and intrigue.

 

That wouldn’t be enough, though, to make it such a great book. It’s good because it is a trifecta of good writing, unique premise, and emotional exploration, a combination that stands out in high relief against so many other books that possess one or two of those traits but rarely all three. I would that, if the premise of a book—any book— is not solid enough, or fleshed out well enough, or plausible enough, all the good writing and emotional exploration in the world cannot make the book an enjoyable read (think Anubis Gates by Tim Powers).  By the same token, if the premise is solid and there’s strong emotion but the writing is clumsy, weak, or thick (like that of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel), then you’ve got a book that collapses under its own weight. If you’ve got writing that flows and a solid premise but characters who express emotions that don’t fit the situations they encounter, or who express them too dramatically or not dramatically enough (as in Nancy Kress’ Steal Across the Sky), the book, again, falls short. It takes real talent for a writer to balance a plot that bears out the premise with evocative, expressive writing and accurate, relatable emotion. That’s why Machinations is such a treasure.

 

This book gets all 10 stars on my 10-star rating system.

 

And, in case you’re wondering why I haven’t posted a review in a while, know that I don’t post reviews here of every book I read. If I read a book but can’t justify giving it more than 3 stars on my 10-star scale, I won’t post a review of it here. I will in GoodReads, though, so if you’re thinking about reading a book and curious about whether or not I’ve read it and liked or disliked it, follow or friend me there.  I’ve also been busy taking care of my sick family, being sick myself, celebrating the holidays a little, writing a technology grant for a local elementary school, working, writing my own book, and excitedly waiting for my 47th birthday, which will happen this Sunday (yes, my birthday is New Years’ Day but no, I wasn’t born just after midnight).

Note: I received a free ebook copy of Machinations through NetGalley. All opinions contained herein are my own, not influenced by the price I pay or do not pay for a book.

Book Review: The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron, a Journey

There are but two kinds of books in this world, in my mind: those that take you on a journey, and those that don’t. The journey a book can take you on can be a physical one, if it describes different places well enough that you can envision them in your mind’s eye, or an emotional one, if it portrays characters and struggles that feel real. A journey can also be one of imagination, if both the settings and characters are depicted realistically and powerfully and the plot and style of a book are executed with finesse and artistry. The better all four of those elements are, the farther one is able to journey into one’s imagination, regardless of the book’s genre. The Forgetting, a book by Sharon Cameron, falls distinctly in that former category. It took me on such a journey that making my way back to real life when I was done took a little bit longer than usual.

The Forgetting

the-forgetting-coverThe premise is that no one in the fictional town of Canaan remembers more than 12 years into their past. Enough records have been kept that they know this happens, and so everyone is obsessed with writing everything down in journals that they keep on their persons at all times. This way, they will be able to reconstruct their lives after The Forgetting. The main character, Nadia, is unique in that she is the only person who has never forgotten. She can remember the anarchy that comes right before each Forgetting, when everyone does whatever they want because they know that no one will remember it. She will do anything to prevent that from happening again.

It is a premise that would seem to be so far apart from our reality that it would impossible to allow for any kind of journey.  But the details provided about Nadia in the first few chapters are so distilled, so poignant, that one cannot help but wonder what it would be like to be able to remember a family that no one else has any recollection of.  And those details lead naturally to a description of the setting–a city somewhere called Canaan–which is not medieval or modern, ragged or rich, but is described in such detail as Nadia runs through its streets that I could easily imagine myself running beside her. And, in the case of this book, the setting is very much tied up with the plot. One could even say that it is an outgrowth of it.

But if you think that premise is strange, you might think its eventual explanation even stranger. It reminded me somewhat of Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, the third book in the Chaos Walking series, of which The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first book. But, by the time you reach that explanation, you’re so wrapped up in the intricacies of the things that Nadia tries to do to prevent The Forgetting that the explanation makes perfect sense. I can only dream of having the talent for plotting that Sharon Cameron does.

The Caretaker

caretaker-coverBy contrast, The Caretaker by Josi Russell is a book that has what some might say is an equally strange premise. Its main character, Ethan Bryant, finds himself the caretaker of 4,000 passengers in cryogenic sleep aboard a ship bound for a planet called Minea. He is resigned to being the only person who is awake, until the ship suddenly wakes up another passenger: a beautiful engineer who, along with Ethan, soon discovers that the ship is instead bound to a destination where they will be enslaved by a highly-advanced, hostile alien race. It starts off feeling real, giving us relatable emotions and familiar routines, and even “leads us into the strangeness,” as Orson Scott Card would say, slowly. But by the time it gets to the explanation, the setting is so utterly foreign and the other characters so difficult to imagine that I became lost. My journey through that book was incomplete and unsatisfactory, I’m sorry to say.

Both are worth reading, though, if nothing else but to gain an appreciation for the beauty of the journey and skill of the person who takes you on it.

 

Name a book that has taken you on a journey.

I purchased The Forgetting at Costco, and The Caretaker on Amazon.

These Broken Stars cover

Book Reviews: These Broken Stars, and This Shattered World

I must start this book review by mentioning another book review site, The Book Smugglers, because it is from that site and its really good, in-depth reviews that I learned about These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman. The book is sometimes called “Titanic in space” because the crash of a giant spaceship is what sets off its main conflict. The daughter of the richest man in the universe, and a poor, orphaned soldier are the only two survivors on a terra-formed, unpopulated planet, and they both hate each other. But they have to get along in order to survive. This is not the first time that such a conflict forms the centerpiece of a story, but it is the first time that it has been done with such original effect.

 

These Broken Stars cover

I, for one,  loved the uniqueness of the plot and the premise, two young people marooned on a planet struggling to overcome the mindsets that keeps them apart. They must search for other survivors and for a way to communicate an SOS signal, so in that sense, the plot is tied inextricably to their movement along their days-long hike.  The evolution of their dynamic feels very real, such that you really feel for both main characters, especially since the story is told from both of their points of view. Lilac, the daughter, learns how and why she should really rely on herself more; not only that, her eyes are opened to the dark deeds of her father, who has kept her under his gilded thumb her entire life. And Tarver–his discovery of the fact that there are things worth protecting, not just dying for, but living for and taking care of–it’s a beautiful thing.

Were it just for those things, I would have rated the book highly. But then, a twist developed that was wholly unexpected, that brought in more of a fantasy feel, that lent a whole new dimension to the tale. I was, in fact, a very bad person when I read this, because I had to read it all through in one day! I felt like this book was well-paced, walking a perfect line between conflict and emotional development. It can be such a struggle to develop both simultaneously. It was one of those books that pulls you inexorably forward to find out what happens. A joy to read.

 

Here’s the cover description:

It’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone. Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help. Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever? Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it. The first in a sweeping science fiction trilogy, These Broken Stars is a timeless love story about hope and survival in the face of unthinkable odds.

Stars: 10 out of 10

Update: Second Book in the Series: This Shattered World

The second book in the series, This Shattered World, did not disappoint either, although it was about completely different characters. Here’s its description:

Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac should never have met. Lee is captain of the forces sent to Avon to crush the terraformed planet’s rebellious colonists, but she has her own reasons for hating the rebels. Rebellion is in Flynn’s blood. His sister died in the original uprising against the powerful corporations that terraformed Avon. These corporations make their fortune by terraforming uninhabitable planets across the universe and recruiting colonists to make the planets livable, with the promise of a better life for their children. But they never fulfilled their promise on Avon, and decades later, Flynn is leading the rebellion. Desperate for any advantage in a bloody and unrelentingly war, Flynn does the only thing that makes sense when he and Lee cross paths: he returns to base with her as prisoner. But as his fellow rebels prepare to execute this tough-talking girl with nerves of steel, Flynn makes another choice that will change him forever. He and Lee escape base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war. As Flynn and Lee attempt to uncover the truth about Avon, they realize that there is a conspiracy on the planet that runs deeper than either of them could imagine, one that Lee’s former commander Tarver Merendsen only scratched scratched the surface of two years ago.

Everything about the second book is different–the characters, the setting, the conflict–but there is the same vividness of setting, starkness of conflict, and unforgettable characters. I wrote this in my Amazon review:

This was a 10 on my not-able-to-put-down scale! I loved everything about it. The plot had the impetus of a tidal wave. It was built around a conflict that was stark and very tense. Though this book’s setting is on a world very different from our own, I didn’t have a problem visualizing where things were taking place. The characters were marvelously believable and wonderfully drawn. There was exactly the right balance between internal monologue and external action; enough of the former to make the extreme changes the two main characters go through seem not only feasible but necessary, and enough of the latter to continually glue my eyes to the pages. Such a joy to read!

This Shattered World cover

Have you read the third book in the series, Their Fractured Light? If so, what did you think?

Book Review: Echoes of Silence by Elana Johnson

You guys. Have you read anything by Elana Johnson? She’s written almost thirty books, under either her name or the pen name Liz Isaacson. She’s local (i.e., Utah), super nice, and an awesome speaker. And her books are addictive. I just read Echoes of Silence by Elana, and it was not-put-downable.

Echo of Silence cover

Here’s the blurb:

Twenty-three-year-old Echo del Toro doesn’t know about the bride-choosing festivities the tyrannical Prince of Nyth has planned–until she’s taken from her home by five armed soldiers. She’s led under the cover of a magically produced storm to an opulent compound to join hundreds of girls, each vying to be chosen as the next Queen of Nyth.

As she plays the charade of falling in love with the Prince, Echo realizes three terrifying truths: He is hungry for her song-magic, he has a secret plot to dethrone his father, and he is not wholly unlikable. Faced with the strongest dark magician in centuries, Echo must know when to let her voice fly and when to hold her tongue, or she’ll find herself caught in the lasting notes of a song that can’t be unsung.

It is YA speculative fiction, set in a kingdom of indeterminate chronology and history. Most of the book takes place within the walls of the prince’s castle, and there are noble people, city gates, markets, and so forth, but no dragons or elves. There is magic, and it is a unique kind. It is based on music, wielded with song. In that respect, it is like my book Forced, which I wrote to explore the idea that the emotions one often feels when listening to music, or making it, could develop into actual powers. The magic system of Echoes is intriguing to imagine as it incorporates both the ability to create ethereal beauty, and to kill, as well as everything in between, depending upon the mindset of the wielder. That system, essentially, forms the basis of the plot of the book, as Echo, the main character, uses it to provide for and protect herself and her sister, and to avoid being taken advantage of for it.

Elana Johnson
Elana Johnson

Echo is a great main character, both despite and because of her lack of ability to control her tongue. She says whatever comes to mind, which often gets her into trouble. The combination of her musical power and lack of a verbal filter make for a great irony. The other characters, too, are equally as intriguing for the things they possess in spades and the things they don’t: Castillo, for his determination and lack of trust; the Prince (Cris), who carries little power but a great ability to understand people, Echo’s grandmother, who passes away before the story begins but whose memory and example linger on almost every page of the book.

This was an excellent read, full of the interactions of these fascinating characters and wonderful prose that made the story flow like a sonata. Ten out of ten stars.

Book Review: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet — A Wow Read

Reading a synopsis like this, what would you think?

Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from.

When marauders raid her town, Maire is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size-altering cakes.

During her captivity, Maire is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her. The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is—as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences.

Interesting, right? Unique, right? More than just the typical girl-discovers-she-has-magic book, right? Well, if you were to read the book this synopsis describes–Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg, you would agree that those adjectives do in fact describe the book as a whole. But I think you would also agree that they don’t even begin to touch the uniqueness and “wow”-ness that is this book.

Magic Bitter Magic Sweet cover

Perhaps it was because I finally had some time after a week and a half of extreme busy-ness, or because I was seeking some escape, but I read this book in less than a day. I have no idea how long  Magic Bitter is in terms of page count because I read it on my kindle, but I ate it up.

Here’s why:

the plot: it never goes where you think it will. It twists and turns and ends up in a place wholly unpredictable, somewhat beyond comprehension and slightly bizarre, but entirely in line with everything that happens along the way. It takes a true master to craft a plot like this. One  star out of two, simply because the ending was so…wow.

the characters: Maire is a wonderful main character, strong but enigmatic, unique but relatable. There are comparatively few other characters in the book, and I would have liked a few more details about Franc and Arrice, her caretakers. Two out of two stars.

the pacing: Perfect. Fast but not breakneck speed. Two out of two stars.

the style: Amazing. Told entirely in present tense, which makes what otherwise might have been too ethereal a book seem more “present.” Charlie truly has a gift for description. Two stars out of two. I’d give this one ten just for style, if I could.

the premise: Like everything else, unique. Two stars out of two.

Disclosure: I received a Kindle copy of this book through NetGalley. Magic Bitter Magic Sweet will be released later this week.