Across the Universe (2011) A Sci-Fi Thriller

Across the Universe is the first Sci-Fi thriller I’ve ever read. It’s also a YA novel and the first in a trilogy. Luckily it’s not the type of series beginning without a proper ending. There are open questions but the mystery is resolved, the perpetrator is caught.

Amy follows her parents on a mission to a planet that is three hundred years away from Earth. Her parents are part of a project crew needed to terraform Centauri-Earth. They have agreed to board the spaceship Godspeed and to be cyrogenically frozen. Three hundred years in the future they will be unfrozen. Amy didn’t have to follow her parents. They gave her a choice: she could stay with her grandparents and her boyfriend or travel to a new planet with her parents. Her love for her parents is stronger than anything else and she accepts to be frozen. The description of this is actually extremely well done. I could almost feel the ice in my veins.

Fifty years before they should land, someone brutally unplugs Amy. Luckily Elder, the future leader of Godspeed, Eldest’s heir, finds her in time. He’s fascinated by Amy, who is a redhead with translucent white skin and green eyes. Nobody looks like Amy on Godspeed. Everyone looks exactly the same: olive skin, dark eyes, brown hair, tall and strong. Eldest, the current leader, is far less thrilled. He’d like to open a hatch and throw Amy into space. He thinks that having someone on board who looks so different, who knows what it was like on earth, poses a huge threat to peace and stability on Godspeed.

Amy and Elder find out that Amy’s attempted murder probably was a mistake. Someone is targeting the crew of the project, which means Amy’s parents are in danger.

The plot is gripping enough but that wasn’t what I liked about this book. What I liked was the world Beth Revis created. The spaceship Godspeed is like a snow globe. I happen to love snow globes, those mini-worlds inside of glass bubbles filled with water. So naturally, I loved the setting. Godspeed has many layers and is like a replica of the earth. While there are no seasons, there’s still weather; they have rain and wind and they grow plants and have cattle.

For those who were born aboard Godspeed their environment poses no problem, but for Amy the ship is claustrophobic. She knows that the stars on the ship’s ceiling are fake. When they discover that there is a hidden window which allows to look out into space, things become dramatic. People are only docile and agreeing to work like slaves because they know nothing else. But once they would realize how vast the world is outside of the ship, things could change. We soon understand that Godspeed is not so much peaceful but totalitarian.

Amy and Elder try to find out who wants to kill the frozen crew members and they try to make sense of many inconsistencies. Someone, for example, has changed the books on Earth’s history. Facts are distorted and used to manipulate people.

I enjoyed this novel. I loved the setting, I thought the book had many thought-provoking elements, the plot was suspenseful, and Beth Revis has a knack for descriptions. There’s a love story but it’s not too romantic. The character’s are a bit flat and Amy thinks a few silly things, but I didn’t mind. I read this as highly entertaining guilty pleasure. Plus it’s an interesting genre mix that works really well. A bit like a locked room mystery set in space.

Lauren Kate: Teardrop (2013) Teardrop Trilogy I

Teardrop

Seventeen-year-old Eureka won’t let anyone close enough to feel her pain. After her mother was killed in a freak accident, the things she used to love hold no meaning. She wants to escape, but one thing holds her back: Ander, the boy who is everywhere she goes, whose turquoise eyes are like the ocean. And then Eureka uncovers an ancient tale of romance and heartbreak, about a girl who cried an entire continent into the sea. Suddenly her mother’s death and Ander’s appearance seem connected, and her life takes on dark undercurrents that don’t make sense.

I’ve been interested in Lauren Kate’s Fallen series ever since I first heard about it but somehow never managed to read it. That’s why I was so pleased when I was sent a review copy of Teardrop, the first in her new YA series.

Eureka has lost her mother in an accident. A rogue wave washed over a bridge and threw the car into the ocean. Eureka who was in the car with her was miraculously saved. We know from the beginning who saved her but we don’t know why her mother had to die.

Eureka has a hard time coping. She even tries to take her own life. That her father’s second wife bullies her into going to therapy doesn’t help. Slowly Eureka loses interest in in everything and she’s angry that nobody understand that you can not just forget an accident and a loss like that.

Nobody seems able to reach Eureka, not her family, nor her friend Cat, or her best friend Brooks who changes in odd ways. But there is Ander. A guy who appears seemingly out of nowhere at every moment.

Her mother has left Eureka a strange book and a mysterious stone. She finds an old woman who is capable of translating the book which seems to date back to Atlantis.

As if Eureka’s life wasn’t difficult enough, Brooks disappears and she is followed and threatened by a group of people Ander seems to know. Questions upon question arise, the most confusing one: Why is Eureka not allowed to cry?

There were a few things I really liked about Teardrop. First of all the setting. The story is set in Louisiana, somewhere near New Iberia. I loved the descriptions, loved how Eureaka runs in the rain, the evocation of humidity and lush vegetation. I think I even liked the setting and the atmosphere far better than the characters or the story. Eureka is a girl I felt for. She is isolated in her grief and surrounded by people who have not the tiniest bit of empathy. I think that was captured well. The love story was a bit too superficial for me but maybe there will be more depth to it in later books. The story which circles around the myth of Atlantis is unique, unfortuntaley the foreshadowing that Lauren Kate uses takes away some of the surprise. The end is a cliffhanger and if book two was already out,  I’d pick it up. I really loved the setting, the importance and symbolism of water and I’m interested to see where this is going.

Thanks to Random House for the review copy

John Marsden: Tomorrow, When the War Began (1993) An Australian Page-turner

When Ellie and her friends go camping, they have no idea they’re leaving their old lives behind forever. Despite a less-than-tragic food shortage and a secret crush or two, everything goes as planned. But a week later, they return home to find their houses empty and their pets starving. Something has gone wrong–horribly wrong. Before long, they realize the country has been invaded, and the entire town has been captured–including their families and all their friends. Ellie and the other survivors face an impossible decision: They can flee for the mountains or surrender. Or they can fight.

Sometimes you want to read for pure entertainment, something that is fast-paced, action-packed but still interesting. Tomorrow, When the War Began is exactly like that, a real page-turner. I discovered the book on Jenclair’s blog last year and am really glad I read it. I am not too much into  series but this start into the Tomorrow Series was really gripping. Too bad that it isn’t an independent book. It’s rather a series in the spirit of the TV series Lost. It always ends when it’s most supenseful, when something big happens. You really have to go on reading if you want to know what’s going to happen next. Jenclair has read all the books meanwhile. You can find her second review here.

Ellie and her friends go camping instead of participating in a cattle show that takes place during Commemoration Day. They make a trip into the Australian mountains and discover a place that very possibly no one has ever seen before. Or only one person, a hermit, who is said to have lived there. The hermit is a man who has been accused of the murder of his wife and baby and escaped into the mountains.

The place they discover is enchanted. It seems to belong to another world, untouched by civilization. They enjoy their stay a lot and leave only reluctantly. When they arrive at their homes, the coming back is a brutal one. Their houses and farms have been abandoned, their animals are dead or dying. Bit by bit they discover that Australia has been invaded and all the people are captives.

The adventures that follow are numerous and dangerous. They first need to find out what happened, then they need to make decisions. How are they going to live and where? How will they hide, what will they eat? It seems natural that they return to the hidden place in the mountains. The country is swarming with foreign soldiers and every expedition is a trial.

We never hear who has invaded the country but we learn why. People in neighbouring poor countries couldn’t accept that a lot belongs to a few rich people and they came to redistribute what is here.

What I liked particularly is the setting. I have never been to Australia but I have seen movies and it is a country whose landscape fascinates me. The setting is rendered very well, in a very descriptive manner. I liked the exploration of topics like war, murder, social justice and injustice. I was just wondering for a moment if it is ethical, to base a book on the idea that poor people or a poor country could act in such an aggressive way. I think what Marsden had in mind, was raising the awareness that there are people less well off than those in the Western hemisphere. Another question that arose was whether they would have the military power to invade.

The characters are not all equally well drawn, two stay a bit schematic but that may change in the future books, maybe they will be more developed.

If you want to read something that is really absorbing, this is a good choice.

Did I mention it is a YA novel? I often enjoy the topics they explore and this is no different. Part one of the series has been made into a film. I haven’t seen it, no idea if it is any good.

Do you like series and if so which ones?

Meg Rosoff: What I Was (2007) A Very Poetical Novel

The narrator of Carnegie Medal winner Rosoff’s latest and perhaps most perfect novel is a 16-year-old boy who has been expelled from two boarding schools and finds himself dumped in a third, near the Suffolk coast. The school is all arbitrary rules, pretentious tradition and routine bullying. But on the beach nearby the boy finds a fisherman’s hut occupied by beautiful, competent Finn, who is everything he wishes he could be himself: athletic, self-sufficient, able, free. The relationship that follows becomes an escape and an obsession, pure and transporting, and a turning point in a life remembered by the narrator at the age of 100. It makes us fall in love not only with Finn but also with the Suffolk coast, the land, the sky and the sea passionately described in airy and crystalline prose. It’s already a classic.

I wasn’t aware that I was reading a YA novel when I started Meg Rosoff’s hauntingly beautiful novel What I Was. It tells the story of a teenage boy but apart from that I don’t see why it is classified as YA. It is very lyrical, poetical and even mysterious. Rosoff creates a wonderful world, her descriptions are very atmospheric.

The novel takes place in 1962. Hilary is an old man now and looks back on his time at St. Oswalds boarding school.  It is the third school in a very short time. He doesn’t really fit in, he hates the place, he doesn’t like the people. The description  of the place had an almost gothic feel.

When Hilary meets Finn, his life changes. What follows is one of the most subtle descriptions and meditations on falling in love. Rosoff manages to show the complexity of the feeling in a masterful way. Don’t we always wish to a certain extent to be like the one we fall in love with? Isn’t the one we love not often an idealized version of our selves, a better part of ourself?

Finn lives all alone in a little fisherman’s hut, near the sea. His sole companion is his little grey cat. Finn is independent, strong, adept at many things. He is everything that Hilary is not. And very beautiful. Hilary is touched by Finn’s beauty in a very profound and even painful way. He compares himself and thinks that this is how he would like to look, how he would like to be. There is also a great transformative power in this kind of love. Through his feelings Hilary becomes every day a little more like Finn.

The fisherman’s hut is located in a very precarious position, threatened to be flooded at all times. Storms are a great danger to it. But it is also a very cozy little hut. Finn has a fire going all the time, he makes tea for them, cooks dinner. Finn likes to read and is interested in history. Through him Hilary discovers a lot he didn’t know.

The description of the landscape and the weather has also a very gothic feel. The sea is wild and seems to devour the land, the winds are howling, the storm is raging. At times I felt reminded of Jonathan Coe’s The House of Sleep, one of my all-time favourites. And once you know the story has a twist, even more so. I wasn’t surprised by the twist, I thought it was pretty obvious from the start but that didn’t dampen the reading experience. I truly liked this book and might very well pick up another one of her novels soon.

Has anyone read this one or another one of her books?

Should anyone want to know more about Meg Rosoff here is her website and blog.