Replica Review

I feel like the only books I’ve read lately are good books. The only reviews I’ve been leaving are either 4 out of 5 or even 5 out of 5 stars. Does this make me a bad reviewer? I’m too lenient? Perhaps. Or it just means that there are so many good books out there that deserve that 5 out of 5 stars on a nobody’s blog.

Replica is, obviously, not going to break this streak.

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Replica by Lauren Oliver
Published by Harper Collins on October 4th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Suspense, Friendship, Romance, Family, Coming-of-Age, Heartbreak
Pages: 544 (total); 284 (Gemma); 236 (Lyra)
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


It has been quite a long time since I have read a book so original (at least to me), so overwhelmingly new, that I had a hard to grasping it (note that the other recent book that made me feel like this would have to be A Court of Thorns and Roses). And I mean this literally, the book, being flipped in my hands every chapter to read from a new perspective is so refreshing and it gives my fingers a workout.

The storyline and characters are not the only unique quality of this book. Creative-genius Lauren Oliver doesn’t simply write this story, but instead puts a piece of art work in our hands. For once, the actual book is part of the story. Almost like a children’s choose-your-own-adventure, Replica is split down the middle; one half consisting of the tale told through normal girl Gemma’s eyes, the other half is the same story, just told through the Replica, Lyra’s, eyes. The reader can decide if they want to read one half and then the other, or, how I read it, they can flip the book over after every chapter, going through each scene with both girls.

Now I will admit that while I find this groundbreaking, it can be tedious. The storyline is just so good that the physical act of closing the book, flipping it, finding the right chapter, reading it, then flipping it again is sort of maddening. I just want to read! I want to absorb Gemma and Lyra’s lives into my own, to learn everything i can about them, and having to constantly flip the lengthy hardcover book in my hands is annoying. This face alone almost made me demote the book to only 4 stars. But Oliver’s story saved it.

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The conversation about AI and other robotics is bubbling over the hidden and obscure online sources into everyday talk. From philosophers to celebrities to idiots like me are talking about the the prospect of artificial intelligence in our near future. This is most likely made popular by the sudden stream of AI-related movies and shows like Ghost in the Shell, Ex Machina, Westworld, and others. Suddenly, it’s all anyone can think about in the science fiction realm. Which is why my brain instantly went to AI and the notion of consciousness in a robot when reading through Lyra’s tale. It seemed too easy, though, and it turns out, I was wrong. Lyra isn’t a robot (though all signs point to that in the beginning) instead she is something more grotesque, something more unearthly that confuses the reader to even consider. Sure, we are more accepting of Scarlett Johansson as a crazy, assassin robot that can become invisible, but now (spoiler!) human cloning that actually works? That is just insane!

And yet Oliver has thought of this world. She has done her research too, painstakingly providing details the reader didn’t even know they needed. As if she were playing God, Oliver creates all necessary information to convince both Gemma and those that help her, as well as the reader, that this is, in fact, really happening. From news articles and eye-witness accounts to a plethora of websites with information, Haven Institute becomes something I question why I’m not Googling it now myself. Much like how Tolkien completely births his world, as does Oliver. There are no loose ends or unanswered questions.

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So I’ve talked about the physical book itself, the craziness of the plot, meaning all that is left now is to discuss the beauty in Oliver’s characters. I’m not really sure which girl, either Lyra or Gemma, is my favorite. Probably Lyra because for being a clone with no knowledge outside of Haven, she is incredibly pensive and self-assured about herself. Even when the truth behind Haven Institute hits her square in the face, she is still the same girl. Even when her own truth, about her haunting past, arises before her, she is still a girl that loves The Little Prince and the stars, finds reading a necessity, and has such genuine emotions towards fellow clone, 72.

In my opinion, Lyra’s use in this novel is to demonstrate the unworldliness that we treat our bodies and the bodies of others. Sure there is more science fiction to that, as well as plenty of other ways to read Oliver’s tale, but the body is so important, to Lyra and to Gemma, that one cannot read a page without thinking about it. Lyra is tempted to understand every anatomical drawing and reference sheet available to her eyes throughout Haven; Gemma is self-conscious about her weight, looks, and past illnesses. The Haven Institute itself is using bodies for biological warfare. Not weapons or computers, but people. The human anatomy is now both the trench and the battlefield.

What happens when we as a society put so much emphasis on the body that it becomes the norm to replicate it, to dupe others into believing that a body could be so meaningless and easily replaceable? How easy it would be, with the technology used at Haven, to quickly mass-produce “beautiful people” and do away with any “flaws” such as beauty marks, cellulite, crooked noses, imperfect breasts, eye color, hair color–all of which, today, we already do away with. There are doctors setting up right now for surgery on a person who doesn’t think they are pretty enough to be a part of society. A hair stylist is mixing pigment for a client who insists on having rose gold hair because she saw it on Pinterest and wants her Instagram followers to like her even more. There are lasers and zappers, at home DIY treatments and expensive, anesthesia-requiring surgeries that are performed every day for someone to change the way they were born, to change the way they were created. We take advantage of our bodies every second.

Lyra: She had never showered alone before and it felt wonderful: the big echoey bathroom, the space, aloneness of it. Was this how all people lived? It felt luxurious to her (130).

And then there is Lyra who doesn’t even know, isn’t even capable of knowing what is actually happening to her. And she is so enthralled by something so simple, like a shower, a cellphone, a children’s book, a chart of the heart, that we too, as readers, are forced to question the smaller things that we have always overlooked. Can you imagine how incredibly amazing our nervous system is? Working without us telling it to, without us really even noticing that it’s working at all. We would notice when it stops, of course, but for the most part, our brain is firing off signals all over our body and we’re too preoccupied with an online fail video to think about it.

Lyra is a child at heart, curious and questioning, ready to discover something new in something Gemma has considered old. Pens and paper, ready for anything, is Lyra’s playground. She doesn’t need a tablet computer, the new gaming console, TV streaming and what else. She craves knowledge from things we have since forgotten to care about: ourselves.

She is equally intrigued by the male body, and rightfully so. Since she hasn’t had any proper training on human anatomy, only peeks through books and charts, when she and 72 are no longer at Haven, but instead away from what seems like a concentration camp, Lyra begins to learn the true lessons of love: watch and wait or else you get burned:

Lyra: She’d been interested in the males, of course–curious about them–but shed also learned that curiosity led to disappointment, that it was better not to want, not to look, not to wonder (131).

How innate is that! For a girl, never allowed to interact with the boy clones, she naturally understands that being curious about someone else, someone that she doesn’t quite understand and ultimately finds attractive, can lead to failure and she is scared of that. We’re all scared of that.

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Gemma as an equally hard time figuring out who she is as well. She identifies as an “alien,” her and her best friend April are “aliens” compared to the pretty, popular girls at school. She believes she is a “freak” because of all the illnesses and surgeries she’s had, the scars showing out of her gym clothes, as well as her weight. She’s embarrassed by it all, and since the girls at school continue to make fun her for both, why shouldn’t she be embarrassed? Women, both young and old, are having to live to such ridiculously high beauty standards that the second someone steps out of line, whether it be with ten pounds extra weight or a scar from a life-saving surgery, they no longer fit the mold and are ridiculed. Ironically, Gemma’s “normal” world would prefer their women be like clones–mass produced and beautiful, not individually but as a whole. Whereas Lyra’s world craves individuality in the case with the scar on Lyra’s forehead, though ugly to her, sets her apart from the other–a clone that is different.

Gemma begins to realize, quite quickly too, that there are many more things to be worried about and to fuss over than her weight. When she meets a guy, two guys actually, who really don’t seem to care that she’s slightly over the normal weight of women, her thighs roughly caressing each other when she sits down, she can’t accept that they don’t see her that way. Then she meets Lyra and realizes that she’s been absolutely bonkers for thinking about her thighs when there have been people being experimented on. Strange, how it takes something so drastic for us to wake up and stop caring about how we look.

But Gemma is not a bad person, she is real. She’s a real girl suffering from self-doubt and her own issues. She is a great representer for young women today–dealing with body image, boys, family, school, friends, and moving.

Gemma: But she had already cried…and today she felt nothing but a strange, bobbing sense of emptiness, as if she was a balloon untethered from the earth, slowly floating away into nothingness (33).

Yet she experiences such dramatic and life-altering things that it’s surprising she comes out of it so strong. This book is definitely a coming-of-age tale, but not in the traditional sense. Gemma is forced into her coming-of-age. Instead of struggling with normal teen problems, like her body, Gemma is thrown into a whirlwind of horrors as she discovers her father’s secret. She realizes then that her own issues are minute compared to that of Lyra and 72’s. How can someone sit and obsess over their body when someone next to them is skin and bones because of experimentation? Gemma quickly matures from teen drama to heroine as she defends the rights of Lyra and 72, demanding her parents respect them and her.

Gemma: There was no time, only change, only atoms rotating, only Gemma and Pete and Rick Hairless and a love so turned around and imperfect and blind it could only be called faith (260).

She becomes insightful and courageous, something she never dreamed she could be. Her life obviously changes throughout this book, both for the good and the bad, as she discovers who and what she really is, what her family really is, and who she wants to be in the end.

If you are interested in anything science fiction, want a twinge of romance, and heart-stopping suspense then this is surely a read for you. Oliver has crafted such a unique tale that battles for recognition. It has been a while since I’ve read something so heartfelt and genuine and overall different in the Young Adult category. Thank you Lauren!

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The Sun is Also a Star Review

If you’ve read Everything, Everything, then you know just how realistic in both love and heartbreak Nicola Yoon can be. The Sun is Also a Star does not shy away from the desire for romance and understanding, and the devastation of losing that.

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The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Published by Delacorte Press on November 1st 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Family, Coming-of-Age, Heartbreak
Pages: 384
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 4 out of 5 ★★★★☆


Nicola Yoon’s stories are unlike many young adult novels out there. They are not heartwarming. I do not set the book down after the last page feeling content. Instead, I am empty, devoid of all emotion because the previous pages have taken all of my feelings out of me already. I am somber when finishing one of her books; a book-hangover sure to set in at any moment. They are simply that captivating.

Like in Everything, Everything, Yoon starts off right away with introducing characters most readers are unfamiliar with reading about. For example, The Sun is Also a Star revolves around Natasha, an illegal immigrant from Jamaica, and Daniel, an Asian-American. Normally, being a white female myself, when reading I input my own thoughts and images for the characters unless they are greatly detailed and in Yoon’s stories, they are. By doing this, Yoon brings race into the story without even directly acknowledging it yet. Of course in this book race is a factor that Natasha and Daniel must deal with, but Yoon simply is creating a space for minority people to have their moment as the protagonist. Both Daniel and Natasha struggle with their identity. Who are they besides their race? Is Natasha really not American simply because she wasn’t born there? Is Daniel not American enough because he still likes Korean food and culture? Furthermore, how can the two of them have a relationship with the other when their parents are racist too?

Not only racial identity, but personal identity too. Neither understand what they want to do in the future. Daniel feels obligated to please his parents into getting into a highly ranked medical school, but he doesn’t feel passionate about that–not like he does with poetry. Natasha, on the other hand, simply found a path that has the best outcome for getting a job at the end.

All of the feelings Yoon weaves into the fabric of Natasha and Daniel are so real that anyone reading will connect in some way or another. Whether it because of race or the fear of deportation because of the US government today, or perhaps more simple, the desire to please our parents versus pleasing ourselves. And finally, to connect with someone so closely, so spiritually, that you love them literally within first sight. Just like how Daniel did with Natasha. That feeling is so strong and overwhelming; it’s desperate and urgent, forcing Daniel to blindly follow Natasha and demand to know more about her. Of course there are the skeptics, Natasha is one of them:

Natasha: The sheer number of actions and reactions it’s taken to form our solar system, our galaxy, our universe, is astonishing. The number of things that had to go exactly right is overwhelming. Compared to that, what is falling in love? A series of small coincidences that we say means everything because we want to believe that our tiny lives matter on a galactic scale. But falling in love doesn’t even begin to compare to the formation of the universe (page 203).

And when the day begins to wind down, a fight has ensued, and the light at the end looks grim and dull, Daniel too has his moments of doubt:

Daniel: Maybe it’s better to end things this way. Better to have a tragic and sudden end than to have a long, drown-out on where we realize that we’re just too different, and that love alone is not enough to bind us (page 195).

And yet, neither can let go. Yoon expertly creates a love story that doesn’t feel cheap or overdone. It feels raw, the energy ripping off the pages, almost taking the ink with it. It surrounds the reader, allowing them to become either Natasha, or Daniel, or both and experience their love first hand.

Daniel: I put my hand on he waist and bury my fingers in her hair. Anything can happen in the breath of space between us. I wait for her, for her eyes to say yes, and then I kiss her. Her lips are like soft pillows and I sink into them. We start out chaste, just lips toughing, tasting, but soon we can’t get enough. She parts her lips and our tongues tangle and retreat and tangle again. I’m hard everywhere but it feels so good, too right to be embarrassed about. She’s making little moaning sounds that make me want to kiss her even more (page 169).

The description of Natasha and Daniel’s passion for each other leaves me breathless. All I can think when reading these scenes is “Damn, I want to be able to write like that.” I would have given this book five out of five stars if it didn’t make me hurt so much inside. Please read this as well as Everything, Everything if you are interested in a real love story. Nothing about damsels or high princes; something that is instead raw and emotional, something that any reader anywhere can feel and connect to. Nicola Yoon, you have once again won my heart within the first chapters, stolen it like a cunning thief and then proceeded to crumple it like a piece of scratch paper and then smash it on the ground. You are wonderful.

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Jackaby Review

This is an old book! I’m not sure why no one has told me to read it, seeing as it has two sequels and it’s really good, but alas, I had to find it on my own and I’m glad I did.

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Jackaby by William Ritter
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on August 25th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Thriller, Historical Fiction, Romance, Friendship, Mystery
Pages: 304
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 4 out of 5 ★★★★☆


The quote on the front of the book, by the Chicago Tribune, somewhat accurately sums up this book: “Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer”–I’m not sure I see the Buffy part, other than banishing demons, but certainly the Sherlock Holmes part. Particularly because Jackaby himself is quite quirky and odd, much like Sherlock or the eleventh Doctor.

The story follows immigrant Abigail Rook, who, coming from England, is searching for a job that can pay her enough so she can live, and seeing as it’s 1893, finding a place to sleep at night in the warmth is important. She stumbles upon an advertisement for Jackaby, an assistant in his investigative service, and the rest is the book. What really drives readers in is the mystery entwined with fantasy to the point that it seems real: there is some sort of demon on the loose, killing victims for their blood (oh here’s the vampire reference). Abigail, never having heard of any of this before, is of course bewildered but stays strong, thinking the murders are a mere sick joke.

What makes this book different however, which is important because the similarities to Sherlock Holmes are quite striking, is the charming demeanor of everyone but Jackaby. Of course he’s going to be odd, carrying around tons of random objects in his pockets, drinking potions that allow him to see through walls and what not–all of this is almost expected seeing as it is a piece of fantasy writing. However, having Abigail be a strong and smart woman–she wanted to be a paleontologist!–instead of necessarily a damsel in distress (she does have her few moments though, since we all do!) makes for an interesting pair. Ritter also could have made Abigail and Jackaby love interests to each other, and refreshingly so, he didn’t. Instead, there are certainly underlying backstory regarding Jackaby’s past, as well as Abigail’s, that keeps the reader turning the pages.

Furthermore, the non-lead characters, such as the ghost roommate, Jenny and the strange ghost-seer Hatun, are potentially more intriguing and just as influential as Jackaby. Women are important in Jackaby’s life, in fact all the female characters, save for a few classic strumpets who hate Abigail for not being more proper, are linked to the fantastical realm and are sought after by Jackaby. Hatun, for example, is described as:

see[ing] a different world than [Abigail] or [Jackaby], a far more frightening one, full of far more terrible dangers, and still she chooses to be the hero whom that world needs. She has saved this town and its people from countless monsters countless times. That the battles are usually in her head does not lessen the bravery of it. The hardest battles always are (104).

Hatun may be called the crazy lady that takes care of an invisible troll to the towns folk, but to Jackaby, she is truly necessary in solving this case. Jenny, the ghost roommate, makes Abigail feel more at home, being the one to talk her down when the magical realm becomes too much her to handle, and allows her to steal the clothes Jenny can no longer wear (since she’s a ghost). Miss. O’Connor and Mrs. Morrigan are, as well, crucial to the murder investigation. And, of course, Abigail, being another set of eyes for Jackaby at all times. Ritter may unconsciously or consciously alerting the readers that no man can ever truly do anything on their own, and when they do, in the case of the bad guy (no spoilers here!), they will undoubtedly get caught by a woman.

At first, I was really hoping this story would be an historical, fantastical twist on the classic Jack the Ripper open case. Jack the Ripper being some sort of fantastical, demon-like creature, that instead of stealing organs to do god knows what with, is either eating them or using them for something else, much like the strange creature Abigail and Jackaby face here. Then, Jackaby, being able to see things that no one else can, would understand that he is simply a misunderstood demon and needs to be sent forth from our world–that’s how I would have wrote this story and maybe in one of the sequels, the story continues (I wouldn’t know, I haven’t looked at them yet).

Please give this book a chance, given its age, if you’re interested in something fun and quirky to read. Jackaby is laughable and the character relationships are deep. I haven’t decided if I’m going to pick up the next two books, more because I have so many books to read already and less because I don’t want to. Jackaby doesn’t necessarily end on a cliff hanger, but it certainly does end with the reader interested in learning more about the dynamic duo.

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