Thursday, May 28, 2015

Review: This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

Title: This Shattered World
Author: Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication date: December 23, 2014
Rating: ★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

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 insurgents.

Rebellion is in Flynn's blood. Terraforming corporations make their fortune by recruiting colonists to make the inhospitable 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 the rebel base together, caught between two sides of a senseless war.

Straight up, I expected This Shattered World to be better than it actually was. I loved the first book in the series, These Broken Stars – loved the slow build of Lilac and Tarver's relationship and how there was more than meets the eye to them both. And there's definitely a lot of that in TSW. But for some reason, it didn't resonate quite as strongly with me this time around.

At first, I was so excited to meet Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac, not just because Jubilee is a non-white protagonist(!) but also because, like Lilac and Tarver, they both had very strong personalities and interesting pasts which usually makes for good tension. However, just halfway through the book, I found myself completely tired of them both.

Jubilee turned into a highly emotional human being – not a bad thing in and of itself, but still such a departure from the stoic, "stone-faced Chase" we met at the beginning of the story. Flynn lost his clever wit and sarcasm, becoming depressed and despondent and a little bit melodramatic for a good chunk of the book. I understand that people help us change and spark different reactions and emotions and behaviors in us – but here, it felt forced. They both lost the things that made them strong and compelling. I just wish the transition had been slower and more subtle because their character changes did seem out of the blue and made their interactions feel staged.

Unfortunately I don't have a lot of great things to say about the plot in This Shattered World either. The science fiction "logic" went straight over my head, just as it did in These Broken Stars. I know that as a reader I'm supposed to give the benefit of the doubt and suspend my disbelief but even so, some of the events that occurred felt random and disconnected and didn't make sense with other established information. The plot itself was just not all that compelling to me – but that could also be because I'm generally just much more interested in relationships, and I wasn't getting a great deal of satisfaction from reading about Jubilee and Flynn. (I did, however, like seeing Tarver and Lilac together again – even if it was just for a minute and through a webcam and completely awkward and maybe just a little unnecessary. Oh well. At least we got something, right?)

That being said, I do LOVE that there was some cultural diversity in this book without ever feeling like a college diversity pamphlet. (A lot to ask, I know.) There were definitely a lot of characters to keep track of in This Shattered World, especially compared to These Broken Stars, where it was really just Tarver and Lilac. All of the "minor" characters in This Shattered World still felt significant, like their stories would matter more than they actually did in this book, so my guess is that Book Three will be written from a new character's perspective, and I have a theory as to who that new character will be...

In summary: I didn't love This Shattered World, didn't think it was as compelling as These Broken Stars, didn't think the characters were as cohesive or well-developed, but loved that there were diverse characters, and still love Amie and Meagan because they are awesome. And if my theory about Book Three is right, I'll probably read it anyway.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Review: Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

Title: Etta and Otto and Russell and James
Author: Emma Hooper
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: January 20, 2015
Rating: ★★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Eighty-two-year-old Etta has never seen the ocean. So early one morning she takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots, and begins walking the 3,232 kilometers from rural Canada eastward to the coast.

As Etta walks further toward the ocean, accompanied by a coyote named James, the lines among memory, illusion, and reality blur. Rocking back and forth with the pull of the waves, Etta and Otto and Russell and James moves from the hot and dry present of a quiet Canadian farm to a dusty burnt past of hunger, war, passion, and hope; from trying to remember to trying to forget; and inspires each of its characters to visit the sites they’ve longed to see and say the things they’ve longed to say. This is dazzling literary fiction about the rediscovery and care of the soul, and the idea it’s never too late for a great adventure.

I'm in the progress of finishing up a bunch of very belated book reviews, but this is the one I'm going to start with, because it's the best book I've read in 2015 so far.

I received an ARC copy of Etta and Otto and Russell and James back in September 2014 and made it to page 3 before putting it aside until April 2015 (I KNOW). Frankly, this book is slow, but it is slow in a measured way. It feels like you're taking a deep breath and holding it.

As its title might suggest, E&O&R&J is filled with compelling characters and fascinatingly complex relationships that span generations. There’s Etta and Otto, who’ve known each other since they were kids, who weren’t really supposed to fall in love but did. There’s Otto and Russell, friends since boyhood, nearly brothers, with their own secrets that are impossible to share. There’s Etta and Russell, whose entire relationship feels a lot like a What if? or a Maybe or If only... (There’s also Etta and Alma, and Etta and Bryony, and Bryony and her brother, among others.)

And of course, there’s Etta and James, the coyote who Etta encounters along her journey. My favorite chapters in the book involve Etta and James. Yes, it’s magical realism, and sure, maybe it does feel a little bit out of place relative to the rest of the story, but it adds a certain richness, a sparkle, to Etta’s journey. It makes it easier to step aside, away from the doubts and criticisms (“An eighty-two-year-old woman trekking across Canada?”), and towards acceptance of her purpose and what she wants to accomplish.

And that’s a big part of this book, too: finding yourself, finding what drives you when the status quo is gone. Otto has an incredible path of self-discovery in particular. From collecting all the newspapers that mention Etta, to turning all of that paper into art – it blows my mind to think about how Emma Hooper tied it all together.

Perhaps my biggest qualm with E&O&R&J is that Russell’s presence seems the least important relative to the others. His story plays a significant role in the flashbacks that somehow still merge seamlessly with the present, but at times, he feels like little more than a plot device made to create tension between Etta and Otto. I would have liked a closer look at him and at what makes him tick, since Emma Hooper has done that so well for the other characters in this story.

This book is about journeys – journeys across land, journeys through life, journeys to find, remember, and reveal oneself. Some of these journeys are stark and upsetting; some are vague and dreamy and surreal. Etta and Otto and Russell and James is filled with fascinating characters and an ambiguous ending, and it ends in a good place – it ends in the only place that could ever make sense – but still I can't help but wish there were more.