Google+ YA Romantics: Mini-Reviews: Illusions of Fate and The Secret Sky

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mini-Reviews: Illusions of Fate and The Secret Sky

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Illusions of Fate
by Kiersten White
To be published by Harper Teen
on September 9, 2014

Source: e-ARC from publisher for review.

Synopsis from Goodreads:Jessamin has been an outcast since she moved from her island home of Melei to the dreary country of Albion. Everything changes when she meets Finn, a gorgeous, enigmatic young lord who introduces her to the secret world of Albion’s nobility, a world that has everything Jessamin doesn’t—power, money, status…and magic. But Finn has secrets of his own, dangerous secrets that the vicious Lord Downpike will do anything to possess. Unless Jessamin, armed only with her wits and her determination, can stop him.
My take: I'm a fan of the first book of the Paranormalcy series and also of Mind Games. I also love how fearless a writer Kiersten White seems to be -- she switches genres like she's changing clothes. In this book, she takes on a new challenge: writing a standalone historical fantasy.

On the positive side, this book had some of the most promising opening chapters I've read in YA this year.  Jessamin is of mixed race -- she's the child of a white colonizer from the country of Albion and a women of color from the Polynesian-ish island of Melei. Jessa has blackmailed herself into a spot at an exclusive boarding school in Albion. She's smart, she's proud, she's prickly -- and she's desperately misses her island home.  She writes hilarious letters to her mother back in Melei, adding parenthetical commentary for the reader.  Me: "Themes of race and class and colonialism and a heroine who seems to have stepped right out of a Frances Hodgson Burnett novel? Bring. It. ON!"

To me, the book didn't quite deliver on the promise of those early chapters, and I think that most of that can be attributed to this book's length. In just 288 pages, I'm not sure it's possible to explore social issues and develop a non-instalove-y romance and build an entire fantasy world.  Happily, Illusions of Fate features White's trademark adorable wordplay and sparkly magic, but I also thought everything in this book felt a little rushed, from the snappy banter to the romance to the resolution. But I remain a fan of Kiersten White and look forward to seeing what new challenge she tackles next. Sci-fi? A book in verse?

The Secret Sky
by Atia Abawi
To be published on September 2, 2014
by Philomel

Source: ARC sent by publisher for review

Synopsis from Goodreads: Set in present-day Afghanistan, this is the story of two teenagers, one Pashtun and one Hazara, who must fight against their culture, their tradition, their families, and the Taliban to stay together. Told in three rotating perspectives—the two teens and another boy in the village who turns them in to the local Taliban—this novel depicts both the violent realities of living in Afghanistan, as well as the beauty of the land and the cultures there. And it shows that love can bloom in even the darkest of places.

My take:  Sami and Fatima have been lifelong friends, and when Sami returns from a period away at religious school, their friendship blooms into star-crossed love. When their relationship is discovered, disaster ensues. Fatima's mother has already picked out a prospective husband for her; Sami's father tells him that he can't marry a Hazara girl. Disapproval turns to violence and bloodshed -- just a heads up that this book contains both child abuse and multiple brutal murders. It also felt like there were few blameless people in all the carnage. Everyone played a part, from Sami and Fatima -- who seemed a little naive in their belief that they could waltz off into the sunset -- to Sami's interfering cousin and Fatima's cruel mother.

I definitely appreciated the chance to read a YA story set in a world that's so unfamiliar to me, and felt that this book did offer insight into these characters' daily lives. I also liked the way it showed the very limited educational opportunities and autonomy for women in rural Afghanistan. But the book didn't completely explain the roots of the bloody clashes between the different groups. Class differences? Power struggles? Religious differences? Historical enmity? I'm guessing it is probably a combination of all those and more.

I think the art of writing a story like this lies in finding balance between the desires and dreams of individuals and the beliefs and customs of groups. On the one hand, the book is about a boy and a girl, but on the other, this budding romance feels doomed by centuries of cultural and religious and political baggage.  I wish it were possible for me to feel like these two could really have a happy ending!

20 comments:

  1. Great reviews Jen! I love the cover for Illusion of Faith and I need to pick up one of her books ASAP!

    Happy Reading
    Patrick @ The Bookshelves

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    1. Love the cover -- the birds play a part in the story!

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  2. I 100% agree with Illusions of Fate. The ending was so, so rushed, but I loved the world it was set in.

    Kate @ Ex Libris

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  3. So happy Illusions of Fate is a standalone! Even happier it's a historical fantasy! Seems like it's a quick read so I definitely want to check it out. I haven't read a Kiersten White book yet so I'm hoping to get to know love her writing as much as you do :)

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  4. A standalone is awesome. I would like more cause these series book are killing me.

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    1. You know, that is a darn good point. Not sure fantasy is the best choice for standalone, but hooray for books that resolve in one installment :)

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  5. Completely agree about Illusions of Fate, it was good but so rushed. The romance was lacking. I just wanted a little bit more of everything. I still enjoyed it but thought it had potential to be so much better.
    The second one looks really good, haven't seen many reviews on it.

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  6. I have an e-ARC of Illusions of Fate but I don't know if I'll be reading it. It sounds good, but I'm not sure if I'll enjoy it.
    I read your review of The Secret Sky in GoodReads. Great review, I hope I can read it someday!
    Lis @ The reader lines

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  7. I was lucky, I liked Illusions of Fate quite a bit, actually, but I always like Kristen's books (aside from the second and third Paranormalcy books, which were kind of disappointing). I liked the romance in this, it was right up my alley, and I enjoyed Jessamine's personality. :)
    Great minis, Jen!

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  8. Oh, Jen! You totally explained what Illusions of Fate was missing. I really loved the book, but there was just something missing that I couldn't quite figure out... You are so right. It needed to be developed more, which more pages would have helped. Considering all that, I think she did marvelously well. She's coming here next week and I'm super excited! She'll be signing my Mind Games and Paranormalcy. :)

    As far as The Secret Sky goes, I do like reading stories set in different cultures as well, especially since there aren't enough of them. It's disappointing that it didn't quite rise to the occassion.

    Thanks for the reviews!

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  9. It is always nice to have a new setting where other cultures and practices open eyes to differences

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  10. I agree with you about Illusions of Fate. I'm reading it now, and flying through it! It's amazing (haven't yet read any of her other books!) but I'm sad it's a stand alone. There's easily enough to make it a series or so least a sequel and I agree it feels rushed :(

    -Dee's Reads

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  11. I really like the concept of Illusions of Fate and that cover is just gorgeous! I read Paranormalcy by her a while back and i really liked it so i might as well pick this one up too! It's also a good thing that it's a stand alone :)
    Great Reviews!

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  12. I love how White always surprises me with something new. Even if it doesn't always 100% work. I'll probably give it a try since it's only one book.

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  13. The second book seems a bit hard to take; while the first one is the exact opposite. I think Kiersten White's new one may be something I would be interested in reading when I'm in the mood for something light. Jessamin's quirky letters to her mom piqued my interest. :)

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  14. It's too bad that Illusions of Fate wasn't as great as you hoped. :( I enjoyed Paranormalcy as well, and I have Mind Games on my shelf. Rushed books end up getting on my bad side, but hopefully White's writing will make up for it!

    I've never heard of The Secret Key before, but I definitely want to read it. I've been meaning to read books with different cultural backgrounds. I'm curious about how it ends! (Are you telling us it's not happy?!)

    Lovely reviews, Jen!

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  15. Woah, The Secret Key reminds me of A Thousand Splendid Suns which wasn't YA but the subject matter was quite similar and set in Afghanistan. Those types of reads are real eye-openers.

    Illusions of Fate is something I'm looking forward to, even though reviews so far kind of indicate it to be kind of 3 star territory. I have enjoyed Kiersten White's reads and I do admire her ability to write for different genres.

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  16. Great reviews for both. I've been wanting to read Illusions of Fate for a while now, and your review is giving me that urgent push!

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