Book review: ‘Across The Universe’ by Beth Revis

Amy Martin is only 17 years old when she follows her parents into a frozen state of slumber, pledging to end her life on Earth in order to wake up in 300 years on a new planet. Along with scores of America’s finest scientists and military personnel, Amy and her parents are cryogenically frozen and loaded aboard Godspeed, the technologically-advanced ship that will carry them to Centauri Earth.

But things don’t go as planned. Fifty years from their planned arrival on the new planet, Amy wakes up — and nearly drowns in her ice-filled chamber. Elder, the ship’s future leader, is there to rescue “the girl with sunset hair” — and Amy wakes up to a scary world on Godspeed. Elder is part of a new race of people led by Eldest, a serious and somewhat tyrannical leader, in a place where any differences are discouraged and mating is regulated. When Amy discovers she’s not the only one being woken prematurely, Elder and Amy embark on a quest to discover who could be trying to kill the Frozens aboard Godspeed — before it’s too late for all of them.

Beth Revis’ Across The Universe is a heart-pumping, rollicking ride through space that had me gripping the steering wheel (this was an audio!) for dear life. With enough twists and turns to keep me intrigued, Revis’ debut novel — the first in a series — was powerful, thought-provoking and entertaining.

Amy is the type of YA heroine we all champion. Aggressive, loyal and wise beyond her years, she’s a fully-dimensional and empathetic character who captured my attention from the get-go. Across The Universe’s opening scene, in which the Martin family is undergoing the freezing process, had ice running (pun intended) through my veins. The early passages featuring Amy’s frozen dreams were spine-tingling. And don’t get me started on when she wakes up — yikes.

What bonded me to her, though, was not her sense of bravery or loyalty to her family. It was her girl-next-door-ness, if you will; the feeling that, despite the horrific and crazy things happening to her, she’s a normal girl struggling to make sense of an incredibly abnormal situation. The passages where she recalls Jason, her boyfriend back on Earth, and acknowledges that he would have been dead hundreds of years by the time she awakens . . . well, that was gut-wrenching. I imagined choosing now to leave behind my entire life — my friends, my other family, my hopes and dreams — for a chance to wake up on a new planet 300 years in the future. And I can’t — not without feeling sick.

For as well as I felt I got to know Amy, Elder is a little more foreign and otherworldly — which works, I guess, considering he’s . . . well, otherworldly. Born and bred to be the future leader of Godspeed, Elder is under the tutelage of Eldest, a truly frightening character. What scared me most about Eldest was the idea that, despite everything, his methods of containing Godspeed seemed perfectly logical to him. And when we realize Eldest isn’t giving us the whole truth, that scared me more.

Never once did I consider turning back once I’d started this adventure, and though it initially reminded me of Amy Kathleen Ryan’s Glow, a book I read last year, it was entirely its own story (and Across The Universe was actually published first). Loving this one so much actually forced me to revise my earlier opinions of Glow, something I don’t normally do, because the world of Godspeed was so tangible compared to the regulated one of the New Horizon. Both feature strong female leads (Amy and Waverly), but I much preferred the fast-paced and eery quality of Across The Universe.

And what of the love story? Despite the suggested intimacy of the hardcover art (at left), the growing closeness of Amy and Elder isn’t as critical to the story as I’d anticipated. This was no problem for me, considering I was so tied up in the intricate layers of deceit binding Godspeed together. All the same, I did nurse a little hope that Amy would come around to admiring Elder for his strength and bravery — and that maybe they’d hook up as an act of (serious) rebellion.

Guess I’ll have to check out the sequel for that.

Fans of fantasy, dystopian novels and stories set in deep space will find plenty to enjoy in Revis’ fast-paced, gripping novel. The societal issues regarding regulating the general populace, controlling the population and its mating habits (ooh, sexy!) and the absolute power of dictators (wasn’t Eldest doing exactly what he preached against, anyway?) elevated this above a simple dystopian novel. Despite its young adult designation, plenty of adult themes were laced into this awesome tale — so bear that in mind for young readers.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1595144676 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Personal audiobook borrowed from my local library

My feelings on the narration: A female and male narrator voiced Amy and Elder’s parts, respectively, and while I enjoyed both, Elder’s impersonation of Amy sounded like a caricature. You know how boys tease and imitate girls by making their voices all funny and high-pitched? Yeah. Like that. Thankfully, those moments were rare — and overall, I felt the narration and pacing were very well done. Elder almost had a slight accent, too, which contributed nicely to the otherworldly-ness of his character. When Amy admitted to having a hard time understanding the dialect, all the better.

Book review: ‘Extraordinary’ by Nancy Werlin

Friendship, family and heritage are  put to the test in this young adult fantasy that had me bumbling through portions, bored and listless, but frantically turning the pages other times as we surged toward the Big Mystery.

Phoebe Rothschild and Mallory Tolliver have had a strong, unbreakable friendship since Phoebe inexplicably abandoned her elitist buddies to befriend Mallory, a new girl and social outcast, in seventh grade. In the years since they first met, Phoebe and Mallory have become inseparable and like-minded, though Mallory is tall, lean and gorgeous where Phoebe is, well . . . ordinary.

Their bonding sessions are broken up, however, with the arrival of Mallory’s older brother. Ryland is mysterious, brooding, handsome — and has his sights set on Phoebe. After expressing interest in her, Phoebe throws herself whole-heartedly into an exciting but confusing relationship with Ryland, and the situation takes a turn when Phoebe begins to see that life with the Tollivers — and her own world — isn’t quite what it seems.

Nancy Werlin’s Extraordinary is, at varying points, a fantasy, coming-of-age tale, mystery, thriller and family saga, and I spent some parts of the novel thinking, “Wow, this is so riveting!” — and others with my eyelids threatening to shut, the pace slowed down so much.

Werlin certainly knows how to build a story and create tangible bonds between characters; there wasn’t a single moment of Extraordinary where I questioned the bond between Mallory and Phoebe, and that is really at the heart of this book. Phoebe’s bonds with her family, too, were incredibly strong, and I enjoyed learning more about the Rothschilds and their long — and fantastical — family story.

It’s hard to talk about this book while avoiding spoilers, but I’m going to try really, really hard. I’m guessing it’s pretty obvious from my description that something isn’t quite right with the Tolliver siblings, especially seeing as they’re both . . . well, a little weird. Ryland is a 24-year-old guy who returns from Australia or some such far-flung place to see his mother, a drugged-out and sickly woman, and his younger sister, who has been left caring for Mrs. Tolliver on her own. And Ryland’s immediate interest? Well, Phoebe. Pursuing Phoebe, an 18-year-old high school student . . . and his sister’s best friend.

There’s a good reason for this, of course. A very good, obvious reason: he needs something from her. And not something as in a little somethin’ somethin’, if you know what I’m saying, but something serious. He needs Phoebe to help he and Mallory settle an old family debt — a debt established by Mayer Rothschild, an ancestor, that remains outstanding.

And since you can’t really settle a centuries-old debt without having been alive through those centuries, you probably know where I’m going with this.

Or maybe you don’t, and that’s OK, too.

I really disliked Ryland and failed to see anything appealing about him, but that’s because I wasn’t supposed to. Phoebe is seduced in a magical way, so of course she thinks this dude is fabulous, handsome and sexy when he’s . . . well, not. Werlin, I’d imagine, doesn’t want us to be taken in by Ryland, because he’s not what he seems.

A major part of my dislike for him was, of course, because of Phoebe. Despite what she believes, she’s a growing, confused teenage girl — and she felt like a real character to me, complete with a slew of insecurities. It was difficult to watch her being manipulated when it was so obvious, as an outsider, what was happening, but these were all lessons she had to learn. Though I can’t say Phoebe was an incredibly positive role model for young women — ditch your family and friends as soon as a hot guy comes along — again, I know that’s because she was glamoured. It wasn’t her fault.

Despite many lulls in the narrative, I wouldn’t say this is a dull novel; there’s plenty of intrigue, deceit and confusion to keep readers guessing. And though the story was stronger for having spent time developing Phoebe and Mallory’s friendship and establishing how successful the Rothschild family has always been, I couldn’t help but feel like we could have lost some of the descriptions and included a little more action. Honestly, I can’t really tell you anything that happened in the first 100 pages that wasn’t merely a set-up for what was to come later. That probably sounds silly — I mean, that’s what books do: page by page, establish a narrative — but I was just . . . disinterested. It was missing something.

Werlin excels, though, in creating realistic conversations between her characters and proving Phoebe to be a young woman I’m sure many will relate to. For parents on the look-out regarding young adult fiction, conversations about sex and love abound — but none are graphic, and all of the action takes place off-stage. These scenes could actually create a great dialogue about when to wait, how well we can know someone before becoming intimate, and how we deal with the aftermath of jumping head-first into physical relationships. And even love.

And it seems I’ve written a pretty long review of a book I was convinced left me cold, so I guess that should tell you something about Extraordinary. It’s not one for the ages, but it was a unique story that carefully explored what it means sacrifice for those you love, and how to really believe in yourself when the odds are insurmountable. Worth a read, especially for fans of young adult fantasy and contemporary fiction with that touch of magic to make it all more interesting.

3 out of 5!

ISBN: 0803733720 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher

Book review: ‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard’ by J.K. Rowling

A great, fast read for fans of J.K. Rowling’s famed Harry Potter series, The Tales of Beedle the Bard features five folklore vignettes: “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot,” “The Fountain of Fair Fortune,” “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart,” “Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump” and “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” The final story is, of course, instrumental in the seventh and final chapter of Harry’s life, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Each has a moral for wizards and Muggles alike, which are reflected upon after the tale by Albus Dumbledore from his private notes on the stories. Hermione Granger, we’re told, translated the tales from the ancient runes.

Easily readable in an hour or two, I made my way quickly through the book and found it enjoyable. As these are basically childrens’ tales with commentary by J.K. Rowling and Dumbledore, powerful wizard and Harry’s mentor, you’re not going to find anything earth-shattering in these pages. But that’s not the point of them. They’re mostly light, fun stories that read like a Mother Goose tale — except for young witches and wizards instead of Muggles (non-magical humans, for the non-Harry-initiated). They reminded me a bit of my favorite Bernstein Bears books as a child, each with its own message to share. While “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” was surprisingly gruesome for a children’s story, it wasn’t really anything too traumatic.

Any fan of Potter will be delighted to relive one hundred pages with Dumbledore’s running dialogue, and there’s some insight to be gained about the Wizarding world from Beedle, who lived in the fifteenth century. If you’re not into Harry, there probably won’t be much here for you. But all Rowling fans will be delighted to spend another evening reliving the magic that originally brought us all to Potter in the first place.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0545128285 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg