Wednesday 29 January 2014

Review: Pawn

Title: Pawn (The Blackheart Rebellion #1)
Author: Aimée Carter
Publisher: Harlequin TEEN
Released: 26th November 2013
Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pawn is the first of Aimée Carter's books that I've read and, while there were a number of issues, I know I'll be going back for more.  For a genre that has become so popular with authors - and one that is a favourite of mine - this book offers a refreshing take on the dystopian world, alongside some surprising moments and conspicuously absent tropes.
Society is ranked from I to VI, depending on how well they do when they are Tested at age 17.  VII is reserved for the ruling family.  Kitty is stuck as a III, guaranteeing her a less than mediocre job, with extremely little pay, in a place far from home.  Which is why, when offered by Prime Minister Daxton to be a VII, she's quick to agree.  But what Daxton doesn't explain to her is the catch.  Becoming a VII means her being Masked, a surgical procedure that leaves her looking exactly like Lila Hart, the Prime Minister's dead niece.  Which puts her in the unfortunate position of being at the head of a rebellion, one begun by Lila.  Unfortunate because Kitty now has to choose: risk death and see the rebellion through, or do as Daxton wants and call it off, ensuring herself a life of luxury and safety.
The concept of a numerically tiered society was one I liked, and it gave Carter's world a decidedly structured feel.  It was very clear how fixed a person's place was; you take the test and you receive a rank, but it is not something you can very well lie about or even manipulate.  This is a dystopia not overly concerned with technology, even with its presence and the significance of the Masking, but, I would say, more in society itself: people and how they function.  I appreciated, too, the fact that rebellion, or at least the widespread idea of it, was already born.  From what I've seen, dystopias usually start at the beginning, introducing the world and perhaps one challenging character or a small group who then branch out.  It's almost as if Carter has fast-forwarded this process; we have here a huge network of people who look up to Lila.  This isn't the only time the author has done so, but we'll come to that in a moment.  In doing this, the focus changes slightly from what we might usually expect, and it is nicely done.  Saying this, however, it did bother me somewhat.  There was something about the way the Hart family worked that had me feeling sceptical.  Having the voices of oppression and freedom, undisguised, under one roof, and with a particular hierarchy, made me question the feasibility of such a situation.  It may just be me, but I was never immersed enough in the story to lose those niggling doubts.
That leads me nicely to the characters themselves.  Again I had a mixed reaction.  Kitty was a decent enough character, of course with her frustrating moments, but ultimately stepping up to her new role as Lila Hart and then putting her own effort into Lila's work.  I was also see her pleased to stick to Benjy, who we are introduced to as her boyfriend right from the beginning.  There is no new relationship, only an established one: once more the fast-forwarding, and once more it works.  When Knox comes into the picture, despite a few seemingly close calls, it does not form a triangle.  There is also a refreshing lack of secrets between Kitty and Benjy.  At the same time I'm not sure how memorable they are, nor can I say I felt as much connection to Kitty as I do to other characters in other books.  And I really had my doubts with Celia.  For a woman of her position - and you'll know the full extent of that meaning if you've read it - she's not particularly good.  She's neither careful nor strategic.  Frankly she's quite disappointing.  The characters are not predictable (and I mean that in the best way) and they're easy enough to read about at the time, but I'd be hesitant to say they leave a significant impression afterwards.
Pawn turned out to be a mix of ups and downs for me that ended up sort of balancing out.  For all its flaws, it is a decent book, and worth picking up if only to see a different take on what is already a well-explored genre.  I do wish I could have enjoyed it even more, but the potential is certainly there for the rest of the series.

Monday 27 January 2014

Review: The Darkest Part

Title: The Darkest Part (Living Heartwood #1)
Author: Trisha Wolfe
Publisher: Self-published
Released: 6th August 2013
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't think it's possible to be disappointed by Trisha Wolfe.  I opened this, safe in the knowledge that all I had read before I had liked, and expected good things.  I think it's safe to say I got good things.  In fact, with such a beautifully emotional story and with characters you just want to hug, I'd go so far as to say I got wonderful things.

Sam was left devastated after her fiancé, Tyler Marks, was killed in a hit-and-run and shocked when she started seeing his ghost.  At first disbelieving, now she holds on to seeing him and talking to him to help her get through each day.  Her parents, on the other hand, have her meeting with a psychiatrist.  She decides she needs to help Tyler cross over, and a plan starts to form: she'll collect his ashes and finally take that trip they were supposed to go on for their honeymoon, scattering his ashes at each stop.  Never mind the fact that she might not be ready for him to go.  When Holden, Tyler's brother, returns to the neighbourhood to see where Tyler's case is at, Sam enlists his help to get hold of his brother's ashes.  Holden is the last person she wants to ask given their past, but there's no other choice.  What she doesn't plan is for Holden coming with her.  Holden, who is increasingly worried at Sam's mental state with each day.  Holden, who has secrets of his own.  With the past clinging tightly to both of them, it's uncertain whether they'll be able to make it back out.

This is a bit of a difficult one because it's marketed as a contemporary, yet there also seems to the be the possibility of the supernatural.  The matter of Tyler's ghost and Sam's mental state is portrayed in such a way as to leave room for doubt.  A little more definition may have been desirable, but I believe it works equally well either way.  Whichever end of the spectrum this book falls at, the ghost works to bring a delicious level of darkness, on the one hand through its own presence and on the other through conveying Sam's highly troubled state of mind.  Add to that a roadtrip and two characters each undergoing their own emotional journey, and there was no way I was being parted from this book before finishing.  Once again Wolfe's writing style proves irresistible, flexible enough that she creates a world so different from her usual creations - real rather than fantasy - and yet still so complex.  In addition to which, two perspectives that are clearly different.

Sam and Holden are both broken characters, shown to be so in different ways.  The extent to which Sam is shattered over her fiancé's death truly had me feeling for her.  Ghost or no ghost, she isn't ready to let Tyler go, and that has caused her to let go of herself.  Holden is barely holding it together under the weight of guilt and secrets - and now also being close to Sam.  One of the things that really struck me about him was how thoughtful he was.  As far as he's concerned Sam is unstable, and in his interactions with her you can see him think through what the best approach would be at any given moment so that she isn't pushed too hard (arguments withstanding).  It probably sounds patronising here, but the novel depicts someone very intelligent and very concerned.

For such broken characters, then, I thought the roadtrip a perfect way to make and show their own personal journeys.  I think that's one of the reasons I love roadtrip stories.  At the same time as honouring Tyler's memory they were making their own, and the dynamics between them were constantly changing.  There was outright hostility and forgiveness and fear and love and everything in between, not to mention the pretty awesome Biker Melody helping things along.  The past was confronted, demons (or do I mean ghosts?) put to rest and the sweetest of endings.  Until finally there was just me, face stretched into a wide smile and the presence of two new characters in my heart.

The Darkest Part shows what it means to lose someone and to let go.  It's beautiful, emotional, well-written.  Frankly by this point I don't expect anything less of Trisha Wolfe.   If you haven't yet read anything by this author, I would strongly urge you to do so.  (Seriously, why haven't you?)  Whether it's myth, fantasy, adventure or, as is the case here, mystery, emotion or even simply a tale of two individuals, there is no doubt that she has you sorted.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Review: Addicted to You

Title: Addicted to You (Addicted #1)
Author: Krista & Becca Ritchie
Publisher: Self-Published
Released: 22nd August 2013
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Addicted to You was not a book I was expecting to enjoy.  It was not even one that I was going to
pick up, as I really didn't think it would be for me, until I happened across a few reviews that persuaded me to give it a try.  Even then my hopes weren't high.  I wasn't expecting to enjoy it...and yet I did.  Immensely.  The novel is, in some ways, quite a dark one, and I was left impressed with the way the authors dealt with their subject matter.

Lily Calloway and Loren Hale are both addicts.  The past three years have seen them pretending to be in a relationship, a solution they came up with to help them hide their addictions: this way Loren can help Lily hide the fact that she's addicted to sex, and Lily can help Lo hide his alcoholism.  For three years, this solution has worked.  But now it's becoming harder to pretend, and the lines aren't so clear anymore.  The possibility of them sharing a real relationship hangs in the air, but their addictions, combined with the arrival of new people in their lives and the demands of family, mean that too easily everything could fall apart.  Even so...being with each other for real may prove too hard to resist.

Addictions are something we generally realise to be extremely serious affairs.  Drugs, alcohol, these are the addictions we come across the most in media and fiction.  Krista and Becca Ritchie do a highly commendable job in showing us the extent to which an addiction can take over someone's life, allowing the reader to truly appreciate what the character is going through.  They take this one step further in exploring something rather less addressed: Lily's sex addiction.  It's quite easy to dismiss this as something unimportant, either because we think it doesn't really compare to the life-threatening nature of, say, the other two types, or because the idea of being addicted to sex seems somewhat absurd and self-indulgent.  In reading this book, however, I could see that Lila was also a victim; in its own way her addiction was destroying her life.  Having sex was not just an activity to pass the time, nor was it just a trivial concern.  It was something she needed to function.

With this in mind, then, Lily and Lo were characters, if not easy to like at times, easy to relate to.  I was invested in their story, and some part of me was glad when they finally decided to make this relationship work for real, even though I knew it would only prove even more destructive.  The authors never once shy away from the dark realities of their characters' lives.  The secondary characters, too, have been well thought-out.  While at first I didn't appreciate the intrusion of Connor and Ryke, neither of whom I could really connect to, my feelings toward them did change.  What I really liked was seeing the complex family dynamics of the Calloways, particularly when it came to Rose and Lily.  The range of characters here is wonderfully complex and adds to the emotional depth that the novel offers, all of which made me enjoy it even more.

This is not a light tale, and neither is there anything half-hearted about it.  It is dark, gritty, emotional.  There is much more to appreciate and consider than I had expected going into the book, and I am certainly looking forward to reading the next one.