Book Review: Young Adult: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Afterworlds Cover

Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she’s made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other seasoned and fledgling writers who take her under their wings…

Told in alternating chapters is Darcy’s novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the ‘Afterworld’ to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved – and terrifying – stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.

Title: Afterworlds
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Category: Young Adult/New Adult
Genre: Literary Fiction/Paranormal
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: September 23, 2014
Format: Paperback ARC
Length: 599 pages
ISBN-10: 1481422340
ISBN-13: 9781481422345

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: GLBTQ
POV: Alternating 3rd and 1st person
Tense: Past

Reviewer(s): Atsiko and Marisa

Where I Got It: Anyone who’s been following this blog for awhile may be wondering what I’m doing reviewing a Young Adult title. That’s supposed to be Nick and Marisa’s job. There happen to be some extenuating circumstances for this one. First, the only version of this book available on NetGalley is the UK edition from Simon and Schuster UK Children’s. I’m a huge Westerfeld fan, so I was very disappointed when Nick told me that. But then, conveniently, another friend of mine happened to stumble across a cache of ARCs for 2013-2015, and this was one of them. I asked Nick and Marisa if I could review this, and they said yes. I am a huge Westerfeld fan, so this made my year.

Review:

Atsiko

Another major reason I’m reviewing this book is that technically speaking, we agreed it’s a New Adult book. No offense to Westerfeld and his marketing campaign. Plenty of gap year books exist in YA. Plenty of teenagers hang out with older folks. And it does have a first love. However, the plot and themes of one of the two interlocking stories felt strongly NA to us. Again, that would still be in Marisa’s ballpark normally, especially as the other half is somewhat of a paranormal romance. But for scheduling reasons and because it there’s a strong fantasy element to the main character’s novel, so much so that it really blurs the line between PR and Urban Fantasy. I promise all this is actually relevant to my review.

How? Because this book was something of a disappointment to me. And also to Marisa. You may have noticed we’re sharing the “Reviewer” spot here. This will be a joint review, something we figured we might as well try, since it’s a group blog anyway.

Marisa

Hey, guys. Welcome to the first joint review on Notes from the Dark! As you may know, I’ve been looking for some NA books that aren’t pure romance. I don’t mind romance sometimes, but as a college student and thus a New Adult, I think the category has so much more to offer than just a hot steamy romance. I had high hopes for this book. As Atsiko mentioned, we agreed it had many elements of NA in our opinion. And despite having romance as a major element in both stories lines, that wasn’t the only part of part of it. I wouldn’t call it a true romance novel. To me, it’s literary fiction, one of my other loves in literature. I found a lot to like in this book, but there was a lot I think could have been better. Since Atsiko has previously blogged about cultural appropriation in YA fantasy and literature in general, I’m going to let him handle the story-within-a-story part, while I deal with Darcy’s part of the book. Then at the end, we’ll both share our conclusions together.

Atsiko

Despite being billed a single novel, this book is really two books in one. There’s not a great deal of interaction between the two story-lines. I’m rather disappointed, since there could have been quite a bit. I kind of wish we had been treated to Lizzie’s story in draft(s) form, rather than as a final copy, since it removes some of the suspense in Darcy’s story, and takes out some really cool narrative and thematic possibilities. If you separated the two stories, there wouldn’t be many clues to show you had done so. For something as much of a trope as a writer writing about a writer, I was hoping for something more from a writer of Westerfeld’s caliber.

Lizzie’s story, about a girl who survives a terrorist attack by fleeing to the afterlife and becoming something of a reaper/psychopomp(guide to the afterlife), is actually a fairly decent paranormal romance/urban fantasy on its own. It’s got a fun premise, contains some lovely and uncommon (in PR and much UF) horror elements, and is fairly dark in some ways. I would have loved to read that book, written as a standalone and self-contained novel by Westerfeld. I won’t spoil it, but the villain was cool, the love interest more original than your average vampire, and the paranormal aspects an old trope with a new twist.

I wouldn’t read Lizzie’s half as a true paranormal romance. Romance readers will understand that warning once they finish the book. But it had some decent tension even if it wasn’t as “swoon-worthy” as something by Stephanie Perkins.

Marisa

I really loved Darcy’s part of this story. Aside from our concerns about target audience appropriateness, I thought it was a nice light YA/NA romance. There were some interesting issues with Darcy’s relationship. Some people might find certain elements uncomfortable. Obviously some people don’t like same-sex or interracial relationships. There are some other factors I won’t spoil. I know other reviewers have felt Darcy was a bit clingy, but I don’t think it was gratuitous. There was decent reasoning behind her behavior, and it never descended into an unhealthy relationship. Especially for a first love kind of story, it felt pretty realistic. Darcy’s romance isn’t sweep you off your feet, either. It was more of a sweet, awkward style of love. I really liked it. When I do read romance, I tend not to prefer the insta-love type, or the aggressive partner type. If you do, just be warned. I think there’s still plenty to enjoy, even if it takes a more gen/lit fic approach to romance than a true romance novel.

I think Darcy was a good every-girl character, without being totally bland. She definitely reminds me of me and my friends at that age (four years ago), and how we approached our writing, although there’s some fun wish-fulfillment in that she actually has a publishing contract.

Atsiko

Stepping on Marisa’s toes a bit–with permission!–one of the themes of the book is literary inclusiveness and cultural appropriation. Several of Darcy’s writer friends make use of mythos outside their own ethnic heritages, including native Australian mythology. Darcy herself writes within her own Indian heritage, using a character from Vedic mythology. In one scene she asks her family about whether they feel she has done justice to the mythology or stepped on it. There were some insightful and pragmatic answers. Not everyone may agree with them. Personally, there were parts I liked, and parts I didn’t, but rather than spoil those scenes, I think readers should make up their own minds.

There’s also the fact that Westerfeld, a straight, white, cis male author wrote Darcy’s story itself, the story of a lesbian Indian girl. As someone who is not Indian either, I thought Westerfeld managed a respectful balance, getting his facts mostly straight and making some good points on the issue of cultural appropriation. I can’t give him a 100% pass, of course, since I’m sure he did more research and fact-checking than I could do for this review. But I’ve seen no complaints from readers about his handling of the issue, either. If there are problems, I’d love to hear about them. There were a few small connections between the the writing of Lizzie’s story and Darcy’s story, and I thought they were interesting twists. One of the medium twists in the novel involves an incident that both stories shared versions of, and I think Westerfeld made some cool comments about being a writer with it. But I still wish there had been more of an interplay.

Marisa

I happen to be a white cis straight girl, so while I try to keep up with the latest in diversity in literature and respecting other cultures, I can’t verify the accuracy of Westerfeld’s portrayal of Darcy. I can say that I found Lizzie quite realistic and relatable. Darcy seemed like a pretty reasonable character outside of my previous caveat. I liked her and felt I could relate to her.

Atsiko

There are elements of a send-up or satire of the life of a writer in this book. I wonder if most readers would catch these, since they revolve around in-jokes and self-deprecation on the part of Darcy and her writer friends. I think that sharing the writing life with YA readers might have been better accomplished if the book hadn’t split it’s focus so much. I’m sure others will disagree. A variety of tastes is what keeps the fiction market interesting.

Marisa

Much like Atsiko, (and Nick), I’m something of an aspiring writer. I’m an English major, and I read… a lot. So I really enjoyed Westerfeld’s scenes on the issues of writing. I don’t know what the average YA reader’s experience with writing and publishing is. Maybe they’ll totally get all the jokes. “Publishers Brunch”, for example. Revisions. Writer parties. I’m not a hundred percent sure I agree it’s satire of publishing, and with that in mind I did find what I felt were some annoying cliches. Again, that’s to the individual reader’s taste.

There is something we talked about among ourselves that I’m going to take the lead on. There are obviously drinks at these parties, since the majority of authors are of age. Both Atsiko and I were a little uncomfortable with the characters’ willingness to flout the law with regards to alcohol consumption. Casually handing a beer to a minor, no matter how you feel about drinking laws or the idea that teens drink anyway, why be so uptight? It bothers me. Other readers may disagree. I don’t believe YA writers have some sort of moral responsibility to their readers, or to support the law as written with no room for disagreement. But still.

Together

Overall, we both felt it was a decent book. Certainly no complaints that it got published. There were some issues we had, and to an extent they did detract from our enjoyment of the book. And it’s quite a long book. Our ARC was 599 pages, and the published version is listed as 608. That’s a lot for a YA novel. But we don’t regret reading it. We didn’t struggle to get through it. It didn’t blow us away, but we liked it. Perhaps that’s not a ringing endorsement. But no book is perfect. We’re still giving this book the equivalent of 3 and a half stars.

Marisa

Conclusion: 77/100 (A solid piece, but not fantastic)
Premise: 7/10 (Fun, but could have been done better)
Plot: 8/10 (No major issues for me)
Setting: 9/10 (Felt like I was there)
Main Character(s): 8/10 (Loved Darcy, Lizze made sense in context)
World-building 7/10 (Good, but could have been better)
Romance Plot(s): 8/10 (Fun but not very original)
Supporting Characters: 6/10 (Nothing great)
Writing: 8/10 (Well-written)
Themes: 8/10 (Thoroughly addressed)
Resolution: 8/10 (I like this kind of ending)

Atsiko

Conclusion: 70/100 (Needed more editing)
Premise: 6/10 (Writers writing about writers/writing is not my thing)
Plot: 7/10 (Like Lizzie’s, Darcy’s could have been better)
Setting: 8/10 (Well-depicted)
Main Character(s): 7/10 (Mostly liked ’em)
World-building: 7/10 (Not bad)
Romance Plot(s): 7/10 (Standard issue)
Supporting Characters: 5/10 (Needed more)
Writing: 8/10 (Good, not brilliant)
Themes: 8/10 (With 600 pages, could have been better examined)
Resolution: 7/10 (Didn’t hate it)

Buy Or Borrow: If you’re looking for NA without a primary romantic element, buy this. If you like litfic and stories about writers, buy it. Otherwise, it might be better to borrow.

Similar Books:
There aren’t any, but we wish there were.

Nick

An administrative note! Due to school issues, Marisa’s review of Love is the Drug will be slightly delayed. This review, being a joint review, was written well in advance. We apologize for this. It shouldn’t be a common occurrence.

Further, to avoid over-posting, my review of Dead Zone may also be a bit late. However, all late reviews will be out by Sunday, and then we will be back to our regular review schedule.

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Publishers Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
Good Books and Good Wine
Proud Book Nerd
Reading Lark
cuddlebuggery

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
nook

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Book Review: New Adult: The Vampires of Manhattan by Melissa de la Cruz

Blue Bloods Cover

Hero of this sexy, paranormal action tale is Oliver Hazard-Perry, former human conduit, and Manhattan’s only human-turned-vampire, now the head of the Blue Bloods Coven. When his all-too-human lover is found murdered on the eve of the coven’s annual Four Hundred Ball–a celebration meant to usher in a new era in vampire society, and to mark the re-unification of the Coven after decades of unrest and decay–Oliver is devastated.

Now, not only is he trying to create a new world order for the immortal elite, he’s the prime suspect and is stalked by the newly installed head of the vampire secret police. Because according to the new rules, vampires who take human life can now be executed. Burned.

How can an immortal sentenced to die fight back? He has to find the killer–and the answers lie deep in vampire lore.

Title: Blue Bloods
Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Category: New Adult
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Hyperion
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Format: Paperback ARC
Length: 225 pages
ISBN-10: 0786838922
ISBN-13: 9780786838929

Series or Standalone: Vampires of Manhattan #1

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Vampires
POV: Multiple 3rd Person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Marisa

Where I Got It: A friend of Atsiko’s managed to score a brace of YA and NA ARCs donated to a book fair by a distributor. I’ve been actively seeking New Adult titles to read, and a trade published series by a well-known author seemed like a great place to start, although I’ve never read the original YA series.

Review:

I picked this up because of a desire to read New Adult in general, not UF/PR or a Blue Bloods continuation particular. So that might color my review a bit.

The book was okay, and after the first half I didn’t have trouble turning the page, but it wasn’t particularly engaging, and the first half seemed like a lot of set-up for how the lives of the characters have changed from when the original series ended ten story years ago. Personally, I don’t accept that as an excuse. A really good book, especially the first in a new series, should not have to trade on the reputation of any predecessors. And it’s not like the book didn’t have words to burn on such a thing; it was fairly short.

With similar caveats, I didn’t find the characters particularly engaging. Or maybe this time it’s because I don’t find the rampant materialism of the upper classes interesting on a surface level. Either way, they seemed like fairly staandard PR/UF characters with little uniqueness to recommend them over other similar main characters in other series. There seemed to be a lot of sex and a lot of ruminating going on, and as I hadn’t read the original series, I didn’t feel pulled into that aspect either. The plot for the first half of the story was barely there, kind of humdrum, and not engaging.

In the second half, I think I had a better grasp of the characters, there were fewer references to the previous series, and the plot had finally got going somewhat. It wasn’t by any means approaching the top half of my enjoyable books list, but it wasn’t slogging through the dross anymore, either. By the end, I was still not impressed. It was a short book, and I don’t think I lost too much of my time reading it, but I would not personally pick up the next book.

I would recommend it to UF/PR readers and Blue Bloods fans looking for a quick fix, but I wouldn’t recomment it to anyone who hasn’t read the author and who doesn’t read a great deal in those genres.

Conclusion: 65/100 (Decent if you like the genre and read the originals)
Premise: 6/10 (Pretty cliche)
Plot: 7/10 (Was okay if quite confusing at first)
Setting: 8/10 (Well-realized)
Main Character(s): 7/10 (Okay, but not great)
Romance: 6/10 (Maybe if you’ve read the original series, but otherwise not interesting)
World-building: 7/10 (Understandable even to a newbie, but a bit cliche)
Supporting Characters: 6/10 (Decent, but not fantastic)
Writing: 6/10 (Competent, but could have been better)
Themes: 6/10 (There aren’t many clear ones, and I didn’t feel them very strongly)
Resolution: 6/10 (Major cliffhanger)

Buy Or Borrow: I’d say borrow, but it may be because paranormal isn’t my favorite genre. If you like it or liked the original series, this is probably worth the money.

Similar Books:
Not many, since YA hasn’t really taken off yet. But the original YA series, Bluebloods, or even Anne Rice’s Lestat books might be a good follow-up if you haven’t read them already.

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Publishers Weekly
Karen’s Addictions
My Friends Are Fiction

Buy Links:
Amazon Currently unavailable
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US Currently unavailable
Kobo
Google Play
nook

Book Review: Fantasy/Romance: The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

cover

The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.

Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.

Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.

Title: The House of the Four Winds
Author(s): Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
Category: Adult Fiction/New Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Romance
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Format: Digital Review Copy from NetGalley
Length: 231 pages
ISBN-10: 0765335654
ISBN-13: 9780765335654

Series or Standalone: One Dozen Daughters #1

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Pirates
POV: Third Person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Marisa

How I Found It: I’ve always been a big Lackey fan, so when Nick told me he could get an ARC of her new series, of course I jumped at the chance.

Cover Notes: I thought the cover was lovely, but to start on a theme you can expect to see a lot of in my review, it felt very Pirates of the Caribbean to me.

Soundtrack: It might be a bit mean of me, but you won’t be surprised to know I read this one to the tune of my PotC soundtracks. Unsurprisingly, they fit it pretty well.

Review:

Maybe I over-hyped this book to myself, since I love Lackey so much. Perhaps I went into it with slightly inaccurate genre expectations. Either way, I found myself quite disappointed with this book. That’s not to say it’s awful. It’s a passable mix between a pirate romance and a fairy-tale. The plot mostly holds together, and most of the characters are interesting. But there’s nothing special about the book that grabs, and despite portraying itself as a fantasy romance, the fantasy elements are few and far-between, for the most part, and the romance has no meat to it. There’s insta-love on the part of Clarice, but 99% of the story pushes her relationship with Dominick towards friendship rather than romance. In fact, there’s something of a warm bro-mance between Dominick and Clarice’s alternate persona Clarence. I think the book might have been better if Clarice had been a boy, perhaps a disposable 12th prince instead of the 1st of twelve princesses.

The main plot of the story started out quite interesting, and up until half-way through the portion of the novel set in the eponymous House of the Four Winds, I thought the story was quite interesting. Despite a few small quibbles. But the direction the story took after that had horrible pacing, little suspense, and was chock-full of sailor lore cliches that added little to the story. There were three major conflicts in the story. The first, involving the mutiny, was fairly interesting and what at first appeared to be bad characterization in fact turned out to be an intriguing plot twist. I have to congratulate the authors on that one.

The second conflict/sub-plot, involving the aftermath of the mutiny and the character’s arrival at the House was also interesting. But it was rushed through, and the swash-buckling, pirate-wrangling adventure I was anticipating was almost immediately done away with.

The third conflict was cliche, rushed, and boring, with only one or two sparks of interest to carry me through it.

In the end, while this isn’t an awful book, and I don’t think I completely wasted my time reading it–short as it was, I’m not particularly excited to see the next few books in the series either. This was not of the quality I had come to expect from Mercedes Lackey. I haven’t read any of her other collaborations with James Mallory, so perhaps his influence has something to do with the lack. I’m not very motivated to find out, at this point.

Conclusion: 61/100 (A very cliche and rather boring Pirates of the Caribbean clone)
Premise: 6/10 (Fun and an old standard, but no interesting twist)
Plot: 5/10 (Cliche and a bit dull, but coherent)
Setting: 8/10 (Our world, but nicely re-imagined)
Main Character(s): 7/10 (Loved Clarice/Clarence, found Dominick rather flat)
World-building: 5/10 (paper-thin facade of an alternate earth, but coherent enough)
Romance Sub-plot: 5/10 (Sweet, but way under-developed)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Fun and diverse)
Writing: 7/10 (Decently-written, but not fantastic)
Themes: 4/10 (No real theme to add depth to the story)
Resolution: 6/10 (Rushed and hollow)

Buy Or Borrow: I’d say borrow unless you’re a huge Lackey fan or love nautical romance.

Similar Books:
I don’t read a lot of romance, but I’m sure there are similar books. As for fantasy, I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Dear Author
Bibliophilia, Please
There Were Books Involved
Between the Pages
Imaginary Reads
Gun In Act One

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK Not available
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
nook