Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Amani is ripped from her family by the alien race that has taken over her star system, the Vathek.  She finds out why she was singled out when she meets Princess Maram and sees that they could be twins.  Amani is trained, sometimes violently, to be exactly like Maram in order to be her body double at events where Maram might be in danger.  The princess's father is Vath and Maram seems to be just like the cruel overlords so people are not looking forward to her ascension to the throne. But after a rough start, Amani begins to see that Maram might be more understanding and could possibly be turned into a good ruler.  In the meantime, Amani is sent into many situations along with Maram's politically convenient fiance, Idris, and soon the two find themselves growing close.

I set aside time today to finish this book because I just wanted it to be over.  I had heard such hype about it and was looking forward to an exciting sci fi adventure but instead it just dragged along.  The main sci fi thing about it is that the Vath are from somewhere else in the solar system.  But other than that knowledge about them, they basically act like humans (or like whatever the original people are on the planets where Amani lives), except meaner, so there's not much of a sci fi element.  The world that was built was fine but the mythology of the culture was not explained clearly enough for me to embrace it or even understand some of it at times.  I wasn't 100% sure what a tesleet was until at least half to three quarters of the way into the book.  The love scenes were long, particularly the actual consummation scene, without drawing me in with the descriptions of how Idris didn't speak the language but he could read what she was feeling, etc.  On a side note, that poem about ploughing and flushing - OH MY! 

Plot-wise, not a whole lot happened.  Once Amani got the knack of being Maram, there was the romance and some pretty clothes and a bunch of scenes where Amani met people are fooled them or confessed to them.  Even the spying was pretty lackluster.  I needed more political intrigue or action.  Finally, I expected some sort of revelation about why the two girls looked so much alike, especially since Maram is only half Andalaan (I think that's the ethnicity...) and all the Vathek look very much alike in coloring.  I assumed we'd find out they were sisters and then Amani would have to deal with her own tie to her oppressors, but no explanation was offered for the resemblance.  It's clear this is book one in a series so maybe that will come up later.  For now I have to assume that they're "cousins, identical cousins...". 

Sunday, August 19, 2018

To Be Honest by Maggie Ann Martin

After her beloved older sister heads off to college, Savvy is left home alone with her diet-crazed mom.   Ever since she was on the reality TV show Shake the Weight, her mom has been obsessed with her own and other's weight and she makes lots of not so subtle suggestions on how Savvy should improve herself.  Savvy is a little chubby but she is usually happy with herself so she mainly tries to stay out of her mom's way but that's going to be more difficult with Shake the Weight coming to the house to film a follow up segment.  Although she tries to be positive, the editors make it appear that Savvy is doing whatever she can to sabotage her mother's progress.  Luckily, Savvy has a new friend, George, who is supportive, cute and funny.  But is he as interested in her as she is finding herself to be in him?

Things I liked:  Savvy.  George.  Their relationship.  The focus of a book with themes of weight being about a person who was too thin rather than overweight. Savvy's ultra-supportive and fun best friend.  The "it's not even worth addressing" fact that her sister is gay.  Portrayal of a character who has panic attacks.  Condemnation of a reality TV show.  Most of the book.

But then.... I was thoroughly enjoying all of this book - even with the typical back and forth of a romantic relationship - up until the last couple of chapters where everything suddenly just ended.  Was the author under a high pressure deadline to wrap it all up?  Threads that were unsatisfactorily concluded for me:

  • Savvy's mom crashes which was not a surprise with the foreshadowing that had been included, but then she goes to the hospital and that's about it.  We hear third hand that she's going to to have spend a couple more weeks somewhere, but there's no real resolution between her and Savvy.  And with her eating disorder, is she suddenly just all better?  That's not usually how such things work.
  • George's problem is his insecurity about getting too attached but he says that and then Savvy says it and now they're all good?  
  • The initial panic attack was nicely written and Savvy mentions having a history of them at other times in the book, but otherwise that issue is dropped.
  • Savvy's article for the newspaper!  She goes to the award ceremony at the end of the book because her article was such a great thing but as readers we see so little of how she got there.  She interviews the coach, they crash a practice, and she talks to a former player.  But we are not let in on the writing and publishing of the article nor on the fallout from it other than a quick mention during the award scene.  George tells her how proud he is because she has worked so hard on it, but I didn't see that hard work, just a few threads that were leading to something explosive.
I wish the conclusion of the book had been as well done as the first three quarters.  The more I reflected on the story, the more unhappy I was with it overall.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Dry by Neal Shusterman

Southern California has been rationing water for quite awhile but no one was expecting the Tap Out - the day that water stopped flowing entirely.  At first Alyssa's parents and neighbors assume the water will come back on in just a couple of days, but before too long people are starting to act a little crazed and her formerly peaceful neighborhood is turning into a war zone.  A lot of the frustration is aimed at Alyssa's survivalist next door neighbors, and their son Kelton, who have supplies and electricity when everyone else is without and that frustration turns violent as time goes on.  With Alyssa's parents missing and no relief in sight, she goes with Kelton and a strange girl to find Kelton's family's Bug out where they hope to survive until conditions improve.  But getting there is not all that straightforward either.

A few chapters into this I had to run an errand and decided it wouldn't be a bad idea to buy a case of bottled water just to have on hand because the speed with which society falls apart in the book felt entirely too realistic.  So in terms of making me think hard about how close most of us are to dropping civility in the face of a crisis, this book is right on target.  Unfortunately, after that good opening for a scary survival story, it was just fairly dry. I wasn't invested in any of the characters and felt that they often made poor choices.  Not the kind of poor choices that lead to interesting story developments, just some fairly illogical choices.  It seemed that Shusterman was going for a picture of the greater scene by including quick scenarios of the girl in the Target parking lot and Alyssa's uncle and the "saint" on the freeway, but I would've preferred more connection with our main characters.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Love à la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Rosie and Henry meet on the plane taking them to study at a prestigious culinary program in Paris.  They have an immediate spark and it seems like they might have begun a relationship when they kiss a few weeks later, but then a series of complications gets in the way.  Henry want to be a chef more than anything but his mother is pushing him to keep his options open for college or another career.  In order to "help" him think about other opportunities, she talks with his teachers and asks them to assign him extra work.  Now he is stressed out with his nonstop schedule and the pressure of trying to keep his grades high enough to satisfy his mom.  Rosie, meanwhile, wants to be a pastry chef and makes the best cakes, breads and desserts ever.  Unfortunately, she is not as great at all the other cooking and is worried she will be asked to leave the school if she doesn't measure up.  Throw into the mix the hot son of a celebrity chef to further complicate things for Rosie and Henry.

As I expected, this is a light romance following typical romance conventions.  Even so, it is very frustrating to me that the couple can't get together sooner because they won't just TALK to each other!  If Henry had just told Rosie about the pressure he's receiving from his mom she wouldn't have to wonder why he seems to be avoiding her, and so on.  But putting that aside, I liked all the characters and the group of supportive friends surrounding our two main people.  I was happy that hot boy Bodie wasn't a bad guy either, especially because I was sure he had somehow sabotaged Rosie's cheesecake.  The only caveat I would include about this book is that while I really enjoyed the cooking atmosphere and liberal references to real life chefs, terminology, and TV shows, I don't know that will work for every reader.  Perhaps the Parisian love affair will help overcome any issues for those who are not Chopped or Top Chef viewers.  I know I felt the romance of the city as Strohm wove it into the storyline.