Saturday, March 23, 2013

Pivot Point

Addison Coleman lives in a paranormal compound (aptly named the Compound) separate from normal people. She and the rest of the inhabitants have various psychic powers and access to much more advanced technologies than the norm world. Her ability makes her able to see the outcomes and futures of decisions she will make. Her life is thrown into turmoil when her parents get a divorce. Her mother will stay in the Compound, but her father will move to the norm world. She has to decide who she lives with, so she Searches both decisions 6 weeks into the future to see which one will have the best outcome. When she knows the truth, what will she choose?

Pivot Point follows a linear story until Addison's Search for the two potential futures. Then, the chapters alternate from the reality where she chooses to live with her father and the reality where she chooses to live with her mother. Each chapter is headed with the definition of a word with "para" in it for the setting in the paranormal world or a word with "norm" in it for the normal world. I really liked this and it helped keep me on track in the beginning while getting used to the jumps back and forth. In both realities, there are fixed events that change slightly but happen all the same even if Addison isn't there. Both stories are effected by the murders of young girls going on in the Compound and the football team at the Compound high school using their powers for more than just winning games. Both stories are interesting, but I personally liked the norm world story line better and I hoped Addison would choose it. Pivot Point's concept had me intrigued, but I was interested to see how the plot would be handled after the two paths finished, which is where it lost me a little bit.

A few things irked me about the book. I am so unbelievably tired of love triangles. This one works better than most, but one of the love interests has to be thrown under the proverbial bus to make the choice clear for the heroine, just like in the Hunger Games series. Why did both have to have a romance? I just think it was unnecessary. I also didn't like the assumption that once she saw what would happen, Addison wouldn't be able to change anything. She made it sound like our decisions are so small that it wouldn't change the ultimate outcome. I completely disagree. I think the author just addressed this to make the story less complicated than it should be by eliminating the impact of changing smaller choices within the outcome of the big choice.

Overall, I enjoyed Pivot Point, but I didn't love it. The writing was engaging and fluid, making me finish it in a few days despite not having much time to read. I really liked some characters, but others bothered me. I didn't see the ending coming, which is wonderful since YA books can be so predictable. I would definitely read more from Kasie West.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, March 21, 2013

City of a Thousand Dolls

Nisha is an outsider in the City of a Thousand Dolls, which houses abandoned female orphans to become educated in a discipline and sold to various buyers as apprentices, wives, or courtesans. She belongs to no house, but is free to roam the city, being educated here and there while doing errands and gathering information for Matron, the matriarch and protector of the city. A few friends make her life bearable as well as her cat companions, who can communicate telepathically with her and each other. Then girls start to die under mysterious circumstances, putting the usually peaceful city into turmoil. After the trend continues, officials are looking for someone to blame and Nisha's future in the city becomes tenuous. She volunteers to find the killer both to save herself and future victims, but she has no idea the danger she will find herself in or how much it will change her life and the City of a Thousand Dolls.

The City of a Thousand Dolls acts as a solution for the Bhinian Empire's two child limit. Unwanted girls can be taken there to be trained in the arts of music, healing, pleasure, combat, or (if certain rumors are true) assassination. Even though the opportunities available to these girls are many and it's infinitely better than being left to die, these girls are still being basically sold into slavery. They have no control over who buys them and there is no telling if their buyer will be decent or abusive. The entire concept makes me uncomfortable and it's meant to. It's easy to forget that the city is a gilded cage because of the quality of  education and amount of work that each girl undergoes. This tradition has been going on for a long time and, because it is so much better than the alternative, the Bhinian people are reluctant to change it. Part of that is also because the city is separated from the rest of the Bhinian Empire and it's easy to dismiss something you never really directly interact with. I loved how the Bhinian Empire is a lush and vibrant amalgamation of Chinese and Indian culture and aesthetics. The background of the empire was touched upon, but left more to be uncovered for the next installment. I think this novel would be a cinematographer's dream to film in either a movie or television show.

The characters really make this book shine. Nisha is amazing yet realistic. She is an outsider in the city due to being abandoned there when she was 6 and had no ties to any caste. At first, she seems more free than the other girls in the caste system because she won't be sold, trains in more than one house, and gets extra privileges due to being Matron's eyes and ears. Then, everything comes tumbling down. Nisha is suddenly in danger of being sold as a slave with no one able to do anything to save her. Instead of folding in on herself and taking her fate, she tries to solve the murder to earn her freedom. Nisha is a very strong girl, but not without vulnerability. She has her moments of doubt and despair, but never gives up in the end. Her relationship with the cats in the city is one of my favorite parts. She can communicate with them telepathically and they are a family to her. Some thought this aspect was too childish, but I found it awesome (probably because I'm a crazy cat lady), especially when their true nature was revealed in the end. Nisha's friends are equally fleshed out. Tanaya is a seemingly perfect stock character who will eventually become princess of the Empire, but her character gains dimensions as the book goes along.

City of a Thousand Dolls is a formidable YA debut that guarantees that I will read anything Miriam Forster writes. It's not a perfect book, but the writing and characters that sucked me in the story made me forgive the few flaws. I can't wait to read the next Bhinian Empire book, which will sadly not be a sequel but will take place in the same world.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mind Games

Sisters Annie and Fia couldn't be more different. Annie, who lost her sight when she was young, is mild mannered and sweet. Her visions of the future allow her glimpses of sight. Fia is fiery and impulsive. Her ability is having perfect intuition. All of her gut feelings and first impressions end up being correct. So, when the Keane Institution offers Annie a full scholarship and tempts her with the possibility of restoring her sight, Fia knows something is wrong. Of course, Fia is right and, after her own ability is discovered, the Institute focuses their attention on her, using Annie and her safety as leverage to manipulate Fia. Fia will do everything and anything to keep Annie safe, including picking stocks and planting bombs, effectively trapping them both as pawns for the Keane Institute. She will have to do something drastic and completely unexpected to get out from their influence or she and Annie will do their dirty work for the rest of their lives.

I didn't expect a lot from Mind Games, but it surprised me. The cover doesn't really represent the story very well, so it is much darker and more intense than it appears. The Keane Institute is an ominous and frightening place that at first appears so welcoming and warm to the young people that come to them for education or an escape from their lives. After it ensnares the unsuspecting prey, they drop the facade and use immoral tactics to get their subjects to do whatever they want. These subjects have special powers, split into three categories of Seers, Feelers, and Readers, that can be used to further the Keane Institutes influence in big ways with acts of murder, espionage, and manipulation. As the novel moves along, the Institute reveals itself to reach further than Annie and Fia thought possible. That place is horrible and so easy to hate. The book is frustrating in a good way because these two girls are trapped so perfectly and I just want them to have normal lives away from the evil clutches of megalomaniac corporations.

The characters are vibrant and realistic. Fia is my favorite character by far. She is so broken and hurt, yet incredibly dangerous. She's an orphan who has only Annie as family, so she's fiercely and sometimes violently protective of her sister. Fia has been manipulated into committing the most heinous acts and lied to for years, so her mental state is not the best. Kiersten White does a wonderful job of capturing her frenetic and unfocused mental state through stream of consciousness writing during her chapters of the novel. Her relationship with Annie is complex. They obviously love each other, but resentment festers because Annie ignored Fia's misgivings about the Institute. Annie, although very sweet and much more mild than her sister, has a manipulative streak. She desperately wants to get her and her sister free from the Institute, but she's willing to allow her sister to be used as a pawn and others to be hurt and even killed to do it. She isn't all sweetness and light like she appears.

Mind Games is a fast paced paranormal read with an ending I didn't see coming. The narration jumps between the past and present and between the two sisters' point of view. I liked piecing together the whole picture bit by bit until everything became clear. The romance and small love triangle are surprisingly enjoyable and didn't detract from the main focus of the story. I can't wait for the next book to see what happens next.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Dead and Buried

Jade and her family just moved into a large house near a big city. This had been Jade's dream for a long time, but was always told it would be much too expensive. She decides not ask why it's suddenly possible and is so excited even though she's moving to a new school for her senior year. She looks forward to a fresh start, but the reality is less than she expected. The other students frequently look at her and whisper to each other or suddenly stop talking when she walks into a room. Jade figures it's because she's new and chooses to ignore it. She also meets a boy with striking pale blue eyes named Donovan and makes friends with an intense yet accepting overachiever named Alexa. Then weird occurences happen in her house: her stuff is moved by something unseen, chills, weird sounds, and her brother claims to see a glimmering girl in his room. Jade finally accepts that her house is haunted and needs to find out who and why before the ghost harms her family.

The Dead and Buried is a delightful old fashioned ghost story with a modern twist. This horror trope has been seen countless times. An unsuspecting family movies into a haunted house and gets terrorized by the ghost. The fairly typical haunted house contains possessions, eerie happenings, poltergeist-like events, and drastic temperature changes. It gave just the right threatening atmosphere. The modern twist comes in with the ghost. One might expect a dead person in need of help to solve their issues in the living world, but we get a homicidal mean girl named Kayla who will do anything to get her way. We learn more about her and her backstory over the course of the book as her diary entries (using numbers instead of people's names) are interspersed between the chapters, allowing us to slowly put the pieces of the mystery together. Although her mean girl status is cemented from page one, I was a little surprised that she would go so far as to threaten the life of Jade's adorable little brother Colby to get what she wants. This aspect gave an urgency to solve the mystery and an aura of fear to Jade as she frantically worked to get Kayla to leave her family alone.

Kim Harrington's writing is awesome as usual and she creates some engaging and realistic characters that I grew to love (or hate) over the course of the book. Jade proved to be very relatable and fun. She misses her mother who died years ago and feels uncomfortable and an outsider in her own family. Her love and knowledge of gemstones is a nice touch and also turns out to be a connection to her mother. I enjoyed the parallels of different aspects to her story and the Daphne Du Maurier novel Rebecca. Jade is a fun heroine to follow and actually makes informed decisions. Donovan is interesting and not the typical bad boy love interest. He has his typical dark attitude, but it makes more sense because his girlfriend died under mysterious circumstances and everyone very publicly blamed him for it. I found his independence and vulnerability refreshing. I wish I could see more love interests like him in YA fiction.

The Dead and Buried is well written light horror read with likeable characters and twists and turns. Teen mysteries are usually extremely transparent and predictable, but the revelations at the end of the novel left me speechless! Kim Harrington certainly knows how to craft a dark, unpredictable mystery. I would highly recommend it to fans of her other work and ghost stories.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins