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Book Review: Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062135896/illusions-of-fate#You guys…I can’t even. I have lost all of my ability to even. Seriously.

I’ve been a fan of Kiersten White’s since Paranormalcy, and I think I’ve read all of her published books (unless one has slipped my notice.) She is a very dependable author – engaging characters, intricate plots, twists that catch me by surprise, and a genuinely wicked and quirky sense of humor. 

But this book, y’all – this one has all of that and somehow something more. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to adequately put my finger on it, or that there is an ‘it’ to put my finger on. To put it simply, this novel represents a significant leap forward in her writing – on an ‘order of magnitude’ level. And her books were already really good. This one is just…better.  

Jessamin, a young lady from the beautiful, tropical island of Melei, has come to gray, dreary Albion to study at a prestigious school. Although she managed to coerce the school into accepting her, a poor ‘exotic’ girl from a colony of Albion, she does not have the funds to afford to live at the school. She has managed to secure a place serving at a local hotel as a housemaid in order to provide room and board while she attends school. Hurrying from school to work one day, she is accosted by a dockworker who intends to take advantage of her when she is rescued by a young Albion gentleman, who charms her into accepting his offer of supper. 

As we delve deeper into Jessamin’s life, we see a poor but proud young lady determined to make her way in the world. She is the product of a union between an Albion who had come to Melei and a Meleian native. Her Albion father turns out to be one of the professors at Jessamin’s school (and the person she was able to coerce to gain acceptance.) A hard worker, Jessamin is an outcast amongst her fellow students due to her racial makeup. She looks, as they see her, like ‘half-breed,’ and is treated accordingly. Her mother was determined that she would learn the ways of the Albions who have colonized their island home, and so she is a bit of a misfit, belonging to both and neither place.

Finn, the young Albion gentleman who rescued her, keeps popping up unexpectedly. It is through him that Jessamin learns that the aristocracy have something they wish very much to keep a secret – magic. As she is drawn deeper into their world, Jessamin learns of the waring forces who wish to control magic and use it to their own ends. Finn is holding out against one particularly evil character, Lord Downpike, the Albion minister of defense. Downpike uses Finn’s affection for Jessamin to try to leverage his way toward his goal. I don’t want to explain too much more for fear of ruining it, but believe me when I say this is a delightfully well written narrative that does the unexpected often enough to keep even the most jaded reader’s interest.

This is a fabulous novel just for the story and the world building. The part I love best, though, is how the author has captured the problematic nature of colonialism and its impact on native cultures. Coming from a colonizing culture (white American of European ancestry – Manifest Destiny, anyone?) I am well versed in all of the ways we supposedly ‘improved’ the areas we colonized. Where would these people be without us? Still living as savages, presumably. This is an attitude and understanding the White has managed to illuminate within the pages of this novel in a way that exposes this false assumption. She also manages to deftly illustrate the devastating impact colonialism has on those who are colonized, both through Jessamin and her island friend Kelen.

I highly recommend this book! I read it as an eARC, but it will be available from Harper Collins on September 9, 2014.

Book Review – Perfect Lies by Kiersten White (Out Today!)

Annie and Fia are back in this excellent sequel to Mind Games!  (You can read our review of it here.) If you haven’t read Mind Games you should go do that now and stop reading this review, since there is literally no way to do Perfect Lies justice without giving excessive spoilers for Mind Games.

Perfect Lies picks up directly after the ending of Mind Games, with Annie lying on the ground pretending to be dead after Fia has faked murdering her. Annie, who is ‘gifted’ with visions of future events, walks into the situation at the end of Mind Games believing that Fia will kill her. Because she loves her sister, she goes willingly to what she believes will be her death (and what everyone from the evil Keane Foundation sees and believes to actually be her death.) Fia, however, who is ‘gifted’ with perfect instincts, has other plans that Annie didn’t see in her vision. She orchestrates Annie’s ‘murder’ to eliminate her use as a bargaining chip by the Keane Foundation. And she expertly manipulates the situation to engineer her sister’s protection, leaving her in the capable hands of the Learner Group.

While Annie believes that Fia is going to join her, Fia again has plans that she cannot see. Fia returns to James and the Keane Foundation in order to bring down the organization from the inside. Much of her point of view in the novel illustrates her growing distrust of her own instincts as she begins to doubt James’ motives and her own abilities. We are treated to the introduction of the marvelous ‘Pixie’ (as Fia refers to her) – a reader who is working as Mr. Keane’s secretary who may or may not be on Fia’s side.

Just like Mind Games, each chapter opens with a point of view designation (Annie or Fia) and a time designation. Each time designation is in reference to the climactic event of the book, and it is spectacular – you will not be disappointed. There are more plot twists, secret motives, murders, and lying liars who lie than ever in this gripping conclusion to Annie and Fia’s nightmare.

Honestly, the thing I was most impressed with was White’s ability to use descriptive language (or lack thereof) to give the reader a real sense of what it is like to be blind. As I was reading the passages told from Annie’s point of view, I was startled to realize that I wasn’t getting my usual clear ‘inner mind’ vision of her surroundings, just a sort of nebulous feel for who and what might be around her. It was startling and effective. Similarly, as I read the passages from Fia’s point of view, I found myself growing somewhat paranoid thinking that everyone around me had a secret ulterior motive. Clearly, White is a gifted author.

Perfect Lies By Kiersten White

(Harper Teen, ISBN 9780062135841, 240pp.)

Book Review: The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White

I am deep in the midst of Cybils reading at the moment.  It is a glorious time full of Young Adult Speculative Fiction.  Today’s read: The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White

Tagline: Family is forever. Especially when they’re immortal.

Isadora’s family is seriously screwed up.  She is the mortal child of Egyptian Gods.  She has definitely gotten the short end of the stick and has a chip – no a 2 by 4 – on her shoulder about the deal.  So when her mother, Osiris, starts having foreboding dreams, Isadora takes the chance to flee and moves to live with her brother in San Diego.  Here she begins to make friends, one of whom wants to be more than friends, which she is definitely not open to; What’s the point of falling in love when you know that everything will one day end?  And what happens if her mother’s dreams follow her?  But most importantly, what if everything she thought she knew about her family is wrong?

This book was a mixed bag for me.  I think this is a really fun, well-written contemporary romance/coming of age story forcibly sandwiched into a speculative fiction package that felt unnecessary and at times distracting.  So for the contemporary romance portion I give it a strong 4 stars, and overall I give it 3.  And on the quotability meter I give it a 4.5, it had a lot of great, insightful quotes that I thought captured truth.  In fact, the romance and character dialogue made this book soar for me.

My Thoughts:

Isadora is a strong, well-written character.  I loved her spark, the way she spoke, and the depth of her thought processes.  I loved her interactions with Ry (more about him in a moment).  And I loved the way he gently and patiently helped her understand that you could be strong, independent and fierce and still open yourself up to love.

“I will fill myself with the desert and the sky. I will be stone and stars, unchanging and strong and safe. The desert is complete; it is spare and alone, but perfect in its soltitude. I will be the desert.”   – Isadora, from The Chaos of Stars

And Ry, he was a pretty interesting character too.  He starts out as a friend, and as his feelings grow he has to dance the age old dance of “just friends” when one of those friends wants something more.  Plus, he gets perhaps the best line of the book when he points out to Isadora that girls don’t need a guy to be whole, because you actually have to be whole in order to be in a healthy relationship;  Wholeness proceeds relationship and is not a product of being in a relationship.

And I loved, loved, loved that Isadora got to have a healthy female relationship with the equally sassy Tyler, who is in her own healthy relationship with the adorkable Scott.  There is, in fact, a lot of good relationship stuff happening here.  Even Isadora’s brother Sirius and his wife bring some spark to the party.

Except, of course, for the family relationships – more specifically the mother/daughter relationship.  That is seriously all twisty.  And a huge motivating factor for Isadora and why she chooses to be closed off.  It is definitely interesting to see Isadora wrestle with her feelings and perceptions and slowly come to understand that a lot of what she thought may, in fact, have been wrong.

In the end, I recommend this book for its compelling look at relationships, strong characterizations and snappy dialogue.  Readers will have to be patient with the set up at the beginning, because the real story starts once Isadora gets to San Diego.  And I felt the Egyptian mythology openings of each chapter kind of disrupted the pacing and flow of the parts that snapped and sizzled, it was distracting.  Definitely get this in the hands of your readers looking for some fun romance, though it is definitely more than that with its exploration of family life and how it can define us and we can take back that power and reshape our image of self.

Book Review: Mind Games by Kiersten White

Two sisters, bound by impossible choices, are determined to protect each other—no matter the cost.

James’s frozen face melts into a smile. “Do you want to know the trick to getting in trouble under the watchful eye of a psychic?”

I think of the nailed-shut windows. I think of Clarice. I think of the two, the two, the two who are now zero. Tap tap. “Yes, I absolutely do.”

“Don’t plan it. Don’t even think about it. The second you get an inkling of what you could do, do it then. Never plan anything ahead of time. Always go on pure instinct.”

I smile. “I think I can do that.” – Mind Games, Kiersten White (synopsis from Goodreads)

Having just read Dualed, and any other number of books with teenage assasins, I was a little skeptical going into Mind Games, a little weary of this polot point you could say.  But this book is so very good and I could not put it down.

Fia, short for Sophia, knows when things aren’t right.  She feels it in her gut, quite literally.  In fact, she takes the concept of instinct to a whole new level, and hers are never wrong.  She has sworn to protect her sister, Annie, who is a Seer.  Annie is blind, but sometimes gets visions of the near future.  There are a lot of people who would do anything to have Annie’s power, but Fia has a power they have never seen before.

Fia and her sister, Annie, have been manipulated into joining an “academy” who recruits girls that have special powers, and only girls seem to have them, and then exploits those powers to their benefit.  They are not the only players in town, however.  And it is hard to know who is doing what: is there a good team, are there good guys?  Thus the mind games.

Mind Games has everything you would want in a thriller.  Fia is a feisty, twisted young lady, pushed to the brink by a shady organization that wants to bring her so far in she can never escape.  This is an interesting character, bound by a loyalty she often resents, she is not always nice to this sister that she loves.  In fact, she often spirals into a despair so dark that the “readers” around her get nauseous migraines.  In this world where it is hard to keep secrets, Fia has quite a few.

Mind Games switches between past and present and between the two girls.  It is really important that you read the chapter headings so you know whose head you are in and when.  This to me was the only real cumbersome aspect of the story, but once I figured it out, I made sure and paid attention.  Of the various novels of this sort that I have read recently, and it really does seem to be a trend right now, Mind Games seemed ahead of the pack in pacing and characters. Even the bad guys – if they are indeed bad guys – were interesting and I wanted some them to turn out to be good guys.  I really enjoyed Fia and am definitely rooting for her, I love the intelligence she possesses and how even though she is flawed – deeply, deeply flawed after years of abuse and manipulation – she begins to understand the situation she is in and attempts to take control.

Annie I am less enamored with, she tends towards selfishness and doesn’t put the pieces together as easily as Fia, but she has her moments.  And the relationship between the two is definitely interesting; they both seem bound by a strong sense of loyalty, but they struggle between a sense of self-preservation and this commitment they have made towards each other.  It is by no means a healthy sibling relationship, but these are by no means healthy individuals either.

If White keeps up the tension, pacing, intrigue and characterization, this should be a hit.  Mind Games is all about, well, the mind games.  There is no strong sense of world building – when does this take place, what does this world look like, how rare are these various seers, readers, feelers?  But the psychological elements of this are truly fascinating. 4 out of 5 stars. Highly recommended.

More teenage assassins: Nobody by Jennifery Lynn Barnes,  Dualed by Elsie Chapman

Mind Games by Kiersten White.  Published by HarperTeen, March 2013. ISBN: 978-0-06-213531-5