ARC Review: The Library of Fates

ARC Review:  The Library of FatesThe Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
three-half-stars
Published by Razorbill on July 18th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 354
Source: First to Read
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from First to Read in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW

 

Aditi Khorana’s The Library of Fates is a beautiful coming of age story that follows the journey of Princess Amrita of Shalingar as she sets out to save her kingdom from the grips of the power-hungry emperor Sikander who is looking to expand his Macedonian Empire by invading and conquering Shalingar.  Shalingar is a prized territory for Sikander because it is where the mystical Symballines are hidden.  The Symballines produce a rare and powerful substance called chamak that Sikander is dying to get his hands on.  Why?  Because when given to Oracles, chamak substantially increases their ability to predict the future.

When the novel opens, Amrita’s father and Sikander have worked out a tentative arrangement to appease Sikander and hopefully keep him from taking control of Shalingar.  Amrita is at the heart of this agreement because Sikander is determined to take her for his bride.  Amrita is not especially excited about this match because 1) who wants to marry a power hungry Emperor and 2) she is already in love with someone else, her childhood friend, Arjun. But she’s willing to make the sacrifice if it means her people are protected.

When Sikander arrives at Amrita’s palace, however, things do not go according to plan and Sikander’s men go on a rampage, killing or imprisoning anyone who gets in their way.  Amrita manages to escape from the palace, along with an Oracle named Thala that Sikander had been keeping as a prisoner but had offered up to Amrita as a wedding gift.  Together Amrita and Thala set off on a journey to find the Symballines and warn them that Sikander is coming for them.  At Thala’s suggestion, they also set out to find The Library of All Things, a library where according to legend, contains a book about every person.  Thala tells Amrita that if they can get to this Library, then they can locate their books and edit them to change their destinies.  Amrita can save her people, while Thala can go back and rewrite her history so that she was never imprisoned and taken away from her family as a young child.  While the journey starts out as a physical one, however, it becomes so much more.  It becomes a journey of self-discovery for Amrita as she begins to find clues that indicate she may not be who she thinks she is and that with her true identity, she possesses the power to change the course of history and save her people.

 

LIKES

 

Amrita.  I found Princess Amrita to be a very likeable character and one that was easy to sympathize with.  Her life up until this point has been very sheltered, so when she first escapes from the palace under siege, she really has no idea how to fend for herself.  In that sense we see tremendous growth from her throughout the course of the story.  She also didn’t really believe any of the stories about magic she had been told all her life.  In her mind, they were just that, stories.  So I enjoyed watching her make this journey and begin to understand and embrace the stories from her childhood and the magic they describe, and what they mean for her.  It’s a lot to take in, especially learning that you aren’t who you thought you were, but Amrita shows great maturity

My one disappointment with Amrita though was that I had hoped she’d be a bit feistier.  Reading the book’s synopsis and hearing that she spends most of the book on the run as a fugitive had me envisioning lots of kickass scenes where she keeps evading Sikander’s men, but her journey ended up being much more subdued than that. My fault for building it up in my own mind to be so epic, but it was a little disappointing.  She’s still a great character though and I especially enjoyed her growing friendship with Thala, especially considering how they are initially just thrown together by circumstance and forced to work together to get away from Sikander.

Varun.  I think Varun actually ended up being my favorite character in the story.  I can’t say much about him without giving away too many details about the overall storyline, but I will say he ends up being a very important character, way more important than he initially seems to be.  Amrita first meets Varun while she and Thala are on the first leg of their journey, a pilgrimage to a temple.  Varun pops up out of nowhere and self-appoints himself Amrita’s traveling companion as she hides among others who are making the pilgrimage to pay their respects to the goddess Maya.  Varun is a charming young man who keeps Amrita entertained with stories about Maya.  He seems pretty determined to educate her as much as possible and, in spite of herself, Amrita feels herself drawn to this boy.  Even though my brain was screaming “No insta-love!” and “What about your childhood love, Arjun?,” I could see why she felt an instant connection to Varun.  He’s immensely likeable and I loved his enthusiasm regarding the temple and the goddess and all of its history, especially once his connection to it all is made clear.

World Building and the Mythology.  Khorana does a beautiful job painting a vivid portrait of both Shalingar, the Macedonian Empire, and all points in between.  I also loved how she seamlessly wove in so many mythological elements to create a truly unique and incredible landscape for her characters to journey through.  I found the Symballines and their world fascinating, as well as that of the vetala spirits, and so much more.  It was like nothing I had ever read before so it made for such a magical reading experience.

Folklore.  One of my absolute favorite parts of The Library of Fates is the parable that prefaces the story.  It’s called the Parable of the Land of the Trees and it’s an enchanting story about self-sacrifice that features trees who used to be able to communicate with humans.  It caught my attention immediately and had me wanting to know how it related to the rest of the story.

 

DISLIKES

My main issue with The Library of Fates was that I felt like so much ground was covered in this one book that the author only scratched the surface on many areas that I would have loved to have read more about.  I would have loved to see more of the folklore and mythology since that was probably my favorite part of the book and I loved the way the author integrated it into the story so smoothly.  I also wanted more details in the various plots and subplots along the way because some of them could have used a little more detail to better elaborate what was happening and why.  And while I know the book was meant to focus on Amrita and her personal journey of self-discovery, I still wanted more exploration of Amrita and her relationships with all of the characters she interacts with.  As is, it was a lovely read but I was just left wanting so much more, either a longer book with all of these areas fleshed out more or maybe even a series.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

Even though I had a few issues with it, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Library of Fates to anyone who enjoys a coming of age story and who wants to learn more about Indian folklore and mythology.  I haven’t read The Star Touched Queen or The Wrath and the Dawn yet, but after reading this story and seeing that this book is recommended for fans of those, I’m more interested than ever in reading those as well.

 

RATING:  3.5 STARS

 

Thanks to Penguin First to Read, the author, and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  This in no way shapes my opinion of the book.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

 

A romantic coming-of-age fantasy tale steeped in Indian folklore, perfect for fans of The Star-Touched Queen and The Wrath and the Dawn

 

No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The unthinkable happens, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos of a palace under siege. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on each other. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

three-half-stars

About Aditi Khorana

Aditi Khorana spent part of her childhood in India, Denmark and New England. She has a BA in International Relations from Brown University and an MA in Global Media and Communications from the Annenberg School for Communication. She has worked as a journalist at ABC News, CNN, and PBS, and most recently as a marketing executive consulting for various Hollywood studios including Fox, Paramount and Sony.

Mirror in the Sky (Razorbill/Penguin, 2016) was her first novel. The upcoming Library of Fates (July 2017) is feminist historical fantasy, set in ancient India, and tells the story of a louche, misogynistic dictator overthrowing an idyllic kingdom, and the women who fight to wrench it back from his hands.

Aditi lives in Los Angeles and spends her free time reading, hiking, and exploring LA’s eclectic and wonderful architecture.

ARC Review: The Sunshine Sisters

ARC Review:  The Sunshine SistersThe Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green
four-stars
Published by Berkley Books on June 6th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: First to Read
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from First to Read in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:  The New York Times bestselling author of Falling presents a warm, wise, and wonderfully vivid novel about a mother who asks her three estranged daughters to come home to help her end her life.

Ronni Sunshine left London for Hollywood to become a beautiful, charismatic star of the silver screen. But at home, she was a narcissistic, disinterested mother who alienated her three daughters.

As soon as possible, tomboy Nell fled her mother’s overbearing presence to work on a farm and find her own way in the world as a single mother. The target of her mother s criticism, Meredith never felt good enough, thin enough, pretty enough. Her life took her to London and into the arms of a man whom she may not even love. And Lizzy, the youngest, more like Ronni than any of them, seemed to have it easy, using her drive and ambition to build a culinary career to rival her mother’s fame, while her marriage crumbled around her.

But now the Sunshine Girls are together again, called home by Ronni, who has learned that she has a serious disease and needs her daughters to fulfill her final wishes. And though Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy are all going through crises of their own, their mother’s illness draws them together to confront old jealousies and secret fears and they discover that blood might be thicker than water after all.

MY REVIEW

The Sunshine Girls is my first experience in reading Jane Green’s novels and I have to admit, I was a little hesitant to read it since most sites I visit categorize it as Chick Lit, which isn’t generally a genre I enjoy.  I’m so glad I gave it a chance though because The Sunshine Girls is a beautifully written, compelling family drama that focuses on mother-daughter relationships, the bond between siblings, the search for love and self-worth, and most importantly, end-of-life regrets and the search for forgiveness and redemption.

The story focuses on Ronni Sunshine, an aging Hollywood star who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  When the story opens, Ronni is reflecting on her life – choices she has made, good and bad, and especially on regrets she has.  Her biggest regret – and one she hopes she can fix in the little time she has left – is how she raised her three daughters, Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy.  Even though she would never admit it before, Ronni is now fully cognizant of how she was so consumed with herself and with her career, that she never gave her daughters the attention, love, and support they needed.  She raised them in an environment where she was not only often physically unavailable to them, but she was emotionally unavailable as well.

The environment that Ronni created for her daughters was not only harmful to her relationship with them, but it also damaged the bond between the sisters as well.  When Ronni was frustrated with how things were going in her professional life, she often took out her frustrations on her girls, especially Meredith and Nell, heaping criticism upon criticism on them.  Her favorite target was Meredith because Meredith was overweight and very insecure about herself, but Nell was a close second.  Youngest daughter Lizzy somehow managed to escape the brunt of the verbal abuse, maybe because she was the baby or maybe because in most ways, she was the most similar to Ronni.  Whatever the reason, Lizzy always being excluded from Ronni’s moody tirades only served to create resentment and drive a wedge between the sisters.  For each of them, their primary goal in life is hurry up and graduate from high school and move as far away from Ronni as possible.

Each of the Sunshine sisters therefore go their separate ways and follow their own path.  While each sister is moderately successful professionally, their personal lives are less than ideal. Healthy relationships seem to elude them, and they rarely ever speak to each other or to their mother.  Oldest daughter Nell gets pregnant right out of high school, but the father doesn’t want anything to do with the baby so she’s left to raise her child alone. Nell stays closest to home, moving into a nearby farm and working as the caretaker there.  Middle daughter Meredith moves to London, becomes an accountant, and gets engaged to a man that everyone assumes she has just settled for because in many ways, he’s a giant loser. Youngest daughter Lizzy becomes a successful business entrepreneur and operates a successful line of pop-up rooftop restaurants in Manhattan.  Lizzy is married and has a child, but Lizzy also has a long-standing affair with her business partner.

As she reflects on her life and how she wants to leave this world, Ronni decides that she wants to do whatever she can to bring her daughters back together and repair the sisterly bond that she damaged when they were young.  She therefore summons all three of them home so that she can tell them about her illness and so that she can try to begin the healing process in their relationships.  While Ronni ultimately hopes they’ll forgive her for being such a sub-par mother, what she’s most concerned about at this point is that they come back together as a family so that she knows they’ll have each other after she’s gone.

 

LIKES

My favorite part of The Sunshine Sisters is how well drawn each of the characters are.  Even though the story starts out from Ronni’s point of view, we also see things from each of the three daughter’s perspectives so in each case, we get to see how they view themselves as well as how others view them.

I also liked the complexity of the relationship between Ronni and her children, as well as the relationships that each daughter has as they move into adulthood and beyond.  It’s easy to see how their upbringing has shaped them into people who find it hard to enter into healthy relationships.  Nell finds it easier to just not even put herself out there. It’s easier to just say she’s too busy with the farm and with raising her son.  In Meredith’s case, the insecurity about her weight that her mom helped to perpetuate has made it so that she just assumes no one will ever fall in love with her. And in Lizzy’s case, she almost seems determined to sabotage what at least on the surface appears to be a healthy marriage.  Ronni knows this is her fault and makes it her end-of-life mission to have a heart-to-heart with each daughter, basically giving them a lifetime of motherly advice and pep talks in one last conversation.  While she knows it’s probably too little too late in terms of them forgiving her, Ronni still hopes that these talks will at least let her daughters know that even though she was a horrible mother, she still loves them with all her heart and wants nothing but the best for them.

DISLIKES

I can’t really say I had any real dislikes other than that a few plot points were a little predictable.  In most cases, the outcome was what I was hoping for though so it didn’t really bother me too much.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you like a good family drama that explores relationships gone wrong and whether or not they can be repaired, then The Sunshine Sisters is one you should have on your radar.  It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and Ronni being Ronni will occasionally make you want to throw the book across the room, but ultimately you won’t be able to put it down until you find out if Ronni achieves her dying wish to reunite her family.

RATING:  4 STARS

Thanks so much to First to Read, the Publisher, and of course Jane Green, for providing me with a copy of The Sunshine Girls in exchange for my honest review.  This in no way influences my opinion of the book.

four-stars

About Jane Green

Jane Green is the author of eighteen novels, of which seventeen are New York Times Bestsellers, including her latest, Falling Previous novels have included The Beach House, Second Chance, Jemima J, and Tempting Fate.  She will be debuting her cookbook, Good Taste, on October 4th.

She is published in over 25 languages, and has over ten million books in print worldwide. She joined the ABC News team to write their first enhanced digital book— about the history of Royal marriages, then joined ABC News as a live correspondent covering Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton.  A former journalist in the UK, she has had her own radio show on BBC Radio London, and is a regular contributor on radio and TV, including as well as regularly appearing on television shows including Good Morning America, The Martha Stewart show, and The Today Show.

Together with writing books and blogs, she contributes to various publications, both online and print, including anthologies and novellas, and features for The Huffington Post, The Sunday Times, Cosmopolitan and Self. She has taught at writers conferences, and does regular keynote speaking, and has a weekly column in The Lady magazine, England’s longest running weekly magazine.

A graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, Green filled two of her books, Saving Grace and Promises to Keep, with recipes culled from her own collection. She says she only cooks food that is “incredibly easy, but has to look as if you have slaved over a hot stove for hours.” This is because she has five children, and has realised that “when you have five children, nobody ever invites you anywhere.”

She lives in Westport, Connecticut with her husband and their blended family. When she is not writing, cooking, gardening, filling her house with friends and herding chickens, she is usually thanking the Lord for caffeine-filled energy drinks. A cancer survivor – she has overcome Malignant Melanoma, she also lives with Chronic Lyme Disease, and believes gratitude and focusing on the good in life is the secret to happiness.

ARC Review of Iceling

ARC Review of IcelingIceling (Icelings #1) by Sasha Stephenson
two-half-stars
Series: Icelings #1
Published by Razorbill on December 13th 2016
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: First to Read
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from First to Read in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:  Lorna’s adopted sister, Callie, is part of a mysterious group of non-lingual teens, Icelings, born on a remote Arctic island, who may not be entirely human. Now Callie wants to go home.

Seventeen-year-old Lorna loves her adoptive sister, Callie. But Callie can’t say “I love you” back. In fact, Callie can’t say anything at all.

Because Callie is an Iceling—one of hundreds of teens who were discovered sixteen years ago on a remote Arctic island, all of them lacking the ability to speak or understand any known human language.

Mysterious and panicked events lead to the two sisters embarking on a journey to the north, and now Lorna starts to see that there’s a lot more to Callie’s origin story than she’d been led to believe. Little does she know what’s in store, and that she’s about to uncover the terrifying secret about who—and what—Callie really is.

* * * * *

My Review:

As a lover of books, it pains me to read a book and not completely fall in love with it.  The only thing worse than reading a book and not loving it is to then have to sit down and write a review explaining the lack of love I feel.  But that’s unfortunately where I am with Iceling.  Let me start by saying that I don’t think I was anywhere near the target age for this book so that should definitely be taking into account if you’re trying to decide if you should give this book a shot.

What I Liked About Iceling:

  • Originality:  The premise of the story is totally unique.  So many books that I read immediately remind me of three or four other books that are similar in storyline or themes.  The originality of Iceling’s storyline is what initially drew me to request the book in the first place. I was very intrigued by the idea of this Arctic-born mysterious group of non-lingual teens who may or may not be human.  It definitely didn’t sound even remotely close to anything I’ve ever read before.
  • Message:  I enjoyed the relationship between Iceling Callie and her big sister Lorna.  Even though they cannot communicate verbally and Callie demonstrates no signs of even understanding English, Callie and Lorna still share a strong sisterly bond. In fact, Callie is closer to Lorna than she is to anyone else in her family.  I thought the author’s message that being family isn’t necessarily about blood was a powerful one.  And then she takes it a step further to show, as Lorna even learns at one point, that just because you’re related to someone doesn’t mean they won’t betray you or lie to you.
  • Action:  Although the beginning half of Iceling moves along at a somewhat slow pace as we get to know Callie and Lorna and start to see what sets Callie apart from everyone else around her, by about the halfway point, the story really takes off and it’s non-stop action from then on out.  You’ve got government conspiracies, rogue soldiers, betrayal, explosions, murder, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg (pardon the icy pun!)

Sounds pretty good so far, right?  So why didn’t I rate it higher?  Well, unfortunately, what I didn’t like about Iceling far outweighed what I enjoyed about it.

What I Disliked About Iceling:

  • The  Narrator:   For much of the novel, we are in Lorna’s head, following her thoughts about everything that is taking place around her – with Callie, her boyfriend, her parents, etc.  The problem with it for me was that there were so many long, rambling, and often repetitive internal monologues.  I understand wanting to get inside of a character’s head to understand where they’re coming from and that’s usually something that helps me really relate to a main character, but there was just so much rambling that it actually hindered my warming up to Lorna.  I didn’t really become invested in her at all until over halfway through the book when she, Callie, and her friends suddenly become underdogs caught up in a major conspiracy.

There was also a tendency by the narrator to over explain things that were fairly self-explanatory, like Lorna and her friend Mimi driving around “dog-calling” boys.  A couple of examples of said “dog calling” made it completely apparent that “dog calling” is their version of males and their “cat calling.”  I didn’t then need what was basically a textbook definition of “dog callng” to make sure I understood what they were doing. It felt like being spoon fed.

That, on its own, probably wouldn’t have bothered me all that much, but when it was coupled with minimal elaboration on what I considered to be crucial elements of the plot – like, for example, what is going on with Callie and these conniption fits that periodically have her rushed off to the hospital for mystery “treatments” that family members aren’t allowed to witness.  Or how about the mysterious adult Iceling they encounter on their journey to the Arctic who pops up out of the ice and then disappears without a trace? Who or what was that? That’s not really something to toss out there and leave hanging with no real explanation or follow up.

  • Plot Holes that required too much suspension of belief:  I knew by its classification as science fiction that I should expect a few far-fetched events to take place, like the mystery Iceling I just mentioned, but even so, there were just some things that I found a little too hard to swallow.

Now let me say up front that I had issues with Callie and Lorna’s parents leaving them alone for weeks while they traveled to the Galapagos Island.  You know your one daughter is prone to these weird fits and sometimes has to go to the hospital, but you’re cool with leaving teenage Lorna in charge.  Bad Parenting 101, but okay, fine. Bad parenting happens so I can roll with it.

I also struggled a bit with this journey that Lorna and Callie, accompanied by Stan and his Iceling brother Ted, take north to the Arctic.  The trigger for this trip is that both Callie and Ted, even though they were nowhere near each other at the time and had never communicated with one another before, had both simultaneously crafted models of what Lorna and Stan assume is their Arctic homeland.  Again, seems a little odd to pile your Icelings in the car and go on a road trip to the Arctic of all places, but again, stranger things have happened, so I was still hanging in there.

What I could not just roll with, however,  was the fact that it wasn’t just Lorna and Stan who came to this conclusion.  As they get further north, they encounter dozens and dozens of cars containing Icelings, each holding models of the same Arctic island.  So, we’re supposed to believe that every single family that had an Iceling simultaneously came up with the same perfect solution to this odd event:  ROAD TRIP TO THE ARCTIC!

I can’t say too much more about plot holes without spoiling major elements of the story but there  were several other similar plot holes that just left me shaking my head the further I got into the story. Much of the story felt like trying to put together a puzzle that has several missing pieces. You kind of get the whole overall picture, but there are still nagging missing details.

Who Would I Recommend Iceling to?

Even though it wasn’t really for me, I still think it could have the potential to be a great sci-fi read for younger readers. I’m thinking freshmen or sophomores in high school,  being much closer to Lorna’s age than I am, might more readily relate to her —  and especially to what’s going on in her head  –  than I could.

 

My Rating:  2.5 stars

 

* * * * *

two-half-stars

About Sasha Stephenson

Sasha Stephenson holds an MFA in poetry from Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, New York. This is his first novel.