(I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. All comments and thoughts are my own).
Aaru is one of those books that you think you understand but by the last page you realize you were wrong. There are two stories here but one is much deeper than the other.
Rose is a 16 year old who is dying of cancer. All the treatments have failed and she is being made comfortable for her last days. As a last ditch effort to save her, her parents sign Rose up for an experimental new system called Aaru.
Aaru is a computer system that copies and uploads a person’s brain and personality into a computer system. The person is able to live on digitally even though their body has died.
As Rose adjust to her new “life” her sister Koren is finding a way to live a new life of her own. She is made the spokesperson for the new technology but quickly learns what happens when you are forced into the spotlight at a young age. She is thrust into this role that begins to destroy who she is and puts her life and well-being in danger.
What I loved/enjoyed:
Aaru was a beautifully created world. I had no problem imaging this new place. It was vivid and alive. I felt like I was inside this computer program as they built it into a new home. I liked the system even though I didn’t quite understand why some aspects were chosen. Why there were Lords and Ladies or rankings didn’t quite get adequately explained but that didn’t keep me from sinking into this new world.
I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of what could be done and how things were made and changed. There was one scene in particular where Rose and her friends play a game of soccer that was exciting. I was enraptured by the game and how they used their new home and powers to make it more than just a simple and easy game of soccer.
I also liked the way life, personhood and afterlife were spoken about in this story. Is Rose still Rose without a functioning brain and body? Without the brain to create new pathways and links, can she evolve beyond who she was when she died? Who is she in this new setting?
Also if you become part of this place are you excluded from a traditional afterlife? Can you die again and move on to either Heaven or another place you believe in? What if your family is unable to join you? Is it worth staying in this place then? I liked asking these questions as we read because it put this new technology into a stark and real perspective.
Koren’s story was handled well. I can’t say I “liked” it, because of the way it went but I respected it and its part in the story. Her side of the tale explained how thrusting a child into a spotlight can do irreparable harm to them. Putting them on TV, or in magazines all dressed up can cause people to view them beyond their age. We saw how dangerous this concept can get. It was a good look at the dangers of child celebrity, even if it did disturb me into almost stopping reading at times.
What I was was okay with (didn’t love/hate):
I had some trouble with the way accents were written. They felt out of sorts, almost forced. There was only one character who was written with an accent while a number of them were supposed to be foreign. I found his speech difficult to follow at times and it threw me out of the story at times. I don’t know if his speech was needed to be written the way it was.
What I was wished was different:
My biggest issues in Aaru was with a handful of decisions that were made. Koren accepts the role as spokesperson without a minute of thought. Her parents never step in and demand a contract. There is no waiting period to think it over, she shakes hands and that is it.
Koren and her parents just trust a company they know next to nothing about. It was hard for me to believe they wouldn’t want details. Even beyond protecting their daughter’s well-being they don’t verify the money or the details of the deal. Her parents don’t even speak up during the exchange and decision process. There was also no later indication that they ever talked the contract over with a lawyer or verified everything that was as they were told it would be.
I also had an issue with the fact that there were cameras throughout the house. I can’t see anyone being okay with that idea right off the bat. Maybe it would have made more sense if there had been a discussion about it. Koren’s parents were intent on gaining the power and money that comes with being celebrities. I think I would have bought the idea more if there had been a scene where they were convinced to allow the cameras to be set up everywhere from the living room the the bedrooms.
Koren doesn’t even seem to know about the cameras. She states multiple times she doesn’t know how they got the footage. Shouldn’t she have at least known they were there? I don’t think it is even slightly legal to set up cameras without the owner’s knowledge and permission. I wanted more discussion about that fact.
I also would have liked more background on Rose and Koren’s parents. The story is about the girls but the parents felt flat. They were almost cliche’s. All her mother talks about it things “happening as they should” or “that is how things are in show business.” Her father falls into drinking, quickly. We have no foundation for them so watching them fall is hard to follow. I wanted to understand them better and why they allowed certain things to happen as they did.
This wasn’t something I hated but what I found hard to read. The way the Magic Man’s actions and desires were written were difficult to read. I understood why his storyline was there but I did almost stop reading because of his chapters. The first time he appeared I didn’t know where the story was going and I wasn’t sure I could continue. I did end up finishing and I understood his part but I would say that anyone reading the story should be made aware of the thoughts and actions that may be triggering to some people.
I gave Aaru 4 stars on Goodreads. It wasn’t the story I was expecting but it was well written and did tell a story with an important warning about the dangers of celebrity.
Shaun David Hutchinson’s books are going to be stories that have one thing going on the surface and another thing in the deeper story. At the Edge of the Universe is about moving on in life, not letting one soul or one event become the center of your universe. You have to see the world is larger than just you. Take one step beyond your personal circle and the world opens up.
Ozzie and Tommy have been best friends since they were young. They have been dating since 8th grade. One day Ozzie wakes up and Tommy has disappeared. No one remembers he existed at all, no one but Ozzie.
Ozzie is set on finding his lost boyfriend, desperate for him to not be truly forgotten. Though complications arise when he falls for his physics project partner, Calvin. Can he let Tommy go? What should he do about the universe that is literally shrinking around him? No one else notices Tommy’ disappearance or the shrinking universe. Does it matter in the end? Was Tommy even real at all?
The plot of the universe shrinking and Tommy not being remembered are secondary to the fact that Ozzie has had an issue seeing the world beyond himself. At first he seems selfish. HIs parents are divorcing and he keeps speaking about in terms of how it will effect him. His brother is leaving for the army and he again centers the issue on how it connects to him. Things at first surround him, the universe is about him.
As the universe begins to shrink, Ozzie begins to understand that he isn’t the only one in the world. Everyone has their own problems, some much serious than his own.
I really liked the way these two ideas were juxtaposed with each other. The universe is literally shrinking just as Ozzie is learning that the world is much bigger than he initially thought. Just as he is looking around, wanting to experience more he is losing it all. He learns quickly not to let life center on one thing and one thing only. Just as he is learning all of this he becomes the literal center of the universe and it is the last thing he wants.
Just as with we are the ants the side characters in this story are well developed. No one came off as flat. I would say that we are the ants does a bit better job of it but I did appreciate that we learn about everyone in this book and not just Ozzie, Tommy and Calvin. Also this book has a very diverse set of characters.
Lua, one of Ozzie’s best friends, is a genre fluid character. This is the first time I have ever read a book with this type of character and I loved the inclusion. I also like the explanation, it is simple and succinct. Lua tells her friends that the pronoun to use with them can be based off their clothing. If he is dressed in a more masculine type outfit than everyone can use “he,” pronouns. If she is dressed more traditionally feminine then everyone can use “she” pronouns. It was easy to follow, and understand.
I also loved how everyone reacted to them. I never felt like anyone was preaching about it to the reader. This was who Lua was. No one fought with them. There was a bit confusion from some of the more antagonist type characters but once we find out why, it all makes sense. I like the inclusion that felt natural. Lua wasn’t forced into the story to have representation, they were included because that is who this character was. I like this type of inclusion, when it just feels like the character is anyone else, nothing different or special but just a person.
Lua wasn’t the only character of diversity. One of Ozzie’s friends is described as asexual and Tommy is black. The story doesn’t focus on just one of these characters, but they are included to show the reader that the world around is much more diverse than you may think. I appreciate books like this because, especially now, we have to see how diverse and beautiful our world is.
By the end of the book I wasn’t sure if Tommy was real or if that really mattered. What mattered was if Ozzie could see that the universe is this larger thing and we have to find a way to balance ourselves in it. If you don’t find that balance you may end up losing yourself.
I enjoy Shaun David Hutchinson’s stories because they are not only diverse but deep. He uses surface level fantasy to delve into deeper issues and ways to see the world. He is able to explore difficult topics with making you feel bogged down or preached at. The reader is comfortable as they read, eager to see how things turn out. You feel connected to the characters no matter how different than you they may be.
One of the reasons I love to read is because it gives me a window into another world and another life. I get to be whoever I am reading about. I get to see life through their eyes and get to experience the world in a way I may not have known before.
One of the reasons I write is to give people a way to look into another life. I think reading is one of the most important ways for us, as a society, to learn about each other. We may not be able to live or visit every culture or meet someone and learn about their religion. But when you pick up a book about a different culture, religion, gender, sexuality or any combination, for that time you are experiencing a different way of life.
I believe now, more than ever, we need to read a number of different books portraying all walks of life. I am not someone who actively choose diverse books, though I would like to change that. I pick up a book usually based off the summary. I am willing and happy to read about anyone and just about anything.
In light of some things that have been happening recently I have decided to take part in Diversity Bingo 2017 hosted by Bookshelves and Paperbacks. I want to diversify my reading. I want to branch out from what I normally read. I want to extend my understanding of groups of people and ways of life that are not like my own. Right now it sort of feels like the world is trying to dampen the significance and importance of diversity. Though I am proud to see so many fighting to keep this from happening.
I called my blog Stories Have Power for a reason. I whole-heartedly believe that stories can do so much for so many. If my reading more diversely, reviewing them and posting about them brings attention to this issue than I will have accomplished my goal. I may not have political power and I may have trouble raising my voice at times but I can extend my own way of thinking. I can take what I learn and what I read and I can share it so more people can broaden their own minds.
With this you are supposed to post a TBR alongside this card. I don’t have a set TBR right now. I plan on using this card to help me when I go on book buying binges (which happens quite often). I will update this as I read from categories. I don’t know how many of these I may get to throughout the year, but I will try my hardest to get to them all.
If you have recommendations of books I should read and add to my TBR from any of these categories, please share! I would love to hear about what you have read and loved. Stay tuned, I will update this with a list of the books with reviews as I read and cross squares off!
(I will be placing a yellow star in the corner of the ones I have read. I didn’t want to put an X and make it difficult to read what the square said).
MC with an Invisible Disability – History is All You Left Me By Adam Silvera – I choose this one because the MC has OCD. Sometimes OCD is not invisible but for this story is was unless you knew Griffen. He has to do things in even numbers and he couldn’t have anyone on his left side. It was interesting to read how different characters responded to this side of him. Some accepted it and tried to do things in certain ways to make him comfortable while others tried to help him move beyond his compulsions. I thought it was an interesting take on the disability and how it can be handled by different people in a person’s life. You can read my review of the book here.
Bisexual MC (Own Voices) – Of Stars and Fire by Audrey Coulthurst – There are two main characters in this story,Dennaleia and Mare. Dennaleia is supposed to be wed to Mare’s brother but quickly find herself falling for his stubborn sister. Mare is bisexual (though it is not something that is focused on), she mentions her past relationships being both male and female. One of the best things about this story was that there wasn’t a huge focus on choosing a sexuality, they just fell who they fell for and that was it. I go into more detail about it in my review of the book, here.
Non-Binary Character – At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson – I altered this one a bit just because this book doesn’t involve a non-binary main character but it does have a non-binary side character and this is the first time I have ever read this type of character. Lua is the main character’s best friend and they are non-binary. I liked the way they were written, they explain their self in a way that makes perfect sense. I thought the identity was represented well and I wanted to include it in here because of that. My review for the book is, here.
My birthday was in November and I got a few gift cards to Barnes and Noble, which means I got a nice amount of new books! Now, I have zero self-control when it comes to book shopping. I wanted to try to only spend the gift cards but that didn’t happen. I just get absorbed into the shelves and find myself with a pile of books in my arms before too long. Here are the books I will be adding to my shelves.
Vicious – V.E. Schwab – This is the one I am currently reading. I have read V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series and loved it. I also loved This Savage Song. I’ve heard great things about her first book and I was eager to get my hands on it. I am about 3/4 of the way through it and I am loving it! I will have a review up once I finish it.
The Magicians – Lev Grossman – I know this series just became a tv series but I had heard about it in passing before that. This is just one that I see on recommendation lists periodically and I have always been slightly intrigued. I may start reading this after Christmas because it is part of a series and I need to stall my spending until after my bank account recovered from Christmas and if I like the first book in a series I have to continue with the series. I can’t just read the first book and then other books in between. I have to read what I can of a series all at once.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness– This concept of this one intrigued me. It is about all the other characters in the adventure stories that aren’t the “Chosen One.” It seems interesting and a fun read.
Ink and Bone – Rachel Caine – I have no idea where I first heard of this one but the story concept grabbed me right away. It is about a time when The Great Library of Alexandria is still around. It controls all knowledge and the owning of books is illegal (one of my nightmares). It is about a boy trying to take this organization down. I love the idea but it is another one that is part of a series so that may end up on the back of my reading list until after Christmas.
We Are the Ants – Shaun David Hutchinson – This is another one that I can’t quite remember where I heard about it. It is about a boy who is given the chance to either destroy the planet or save it. It is up to him to determine if the world and his life are worth saving. I thought it sounded like one that will make me think as I read it. I love books that make me question and put me in moral dilemmas so this should be an interesting read.
The View from the Cheap Seats – Selected Nonfiction – Neil Gaiman – This one my mom actually found while we were wandering around the bookstore. Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors and this book has a number of his essays on a range of topics. This is the only nonfiction book I bought but I am hoping it gives me some inspiration or at least lets me learn more about one of my favorite authors.
Genius: The Game – Leopoldo Gout – This one I saw on the shelf and was instantly attracted to it. The cover pulled me in. It has a pretty simple summary, a number of geniuses are brought together to play a game that will have world wide effects. I like the idea of a mind game. Not sure what to expect from this one but I am excited to read it.
So these are some of my new books. Have you read any of these? If so what do you think of them? Have you bought any new books recently?
I have been adding a number of books to my “want to read,” shelf on my Goodreads account over the last few months. Between recommendations from blogs and BookTubers I watch, the list has been growing quick. I decided it was time to go on a bit of a book splurge and buy a few of them. I really shouldn’t have because I do have a big trip coming up that I should have been saving my money for but I have zero self-control when it comes to books!!
First up is A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab. I just finished the first book in this series (A Darker Shade of Magic)and loved it. ( I will be putting up a review sometime soon.) When I like a series I need to continue reading it. I won’t read a book in-between if I can help it. So this is the one I am currently on and am excited to see what happens next with our characters.
One of my favorite paranormal authors is Gena Showalter. Firstlife is the first in a new young adult series she is writing. It is about a world where your first life is just practice, your real life begins after you die. You have to choose where you will go once you die and a young woman has to decide between two factions and worlds that want her. The concept of being able to choose your afterlife, and that being what is important was an interesting concept to me. I am interested to see what this story is like.
Another Gena Showalter that I bought. This is the next book in The Lords of the Underworld series. I have reviewed the previous book on my blog, (here). I love this series and am so excited to read Bane’s story. I am eager to see where the story goes. Though I was confused when I got this one just because all the other books have been in paperback; but this one is hardback. It won’t detract from the story, it will just look very odd with the other ones from the series on my shelf.
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera is one I actually saw a review for by a BookTuber I watch and it sounded really interesting. It is about a sixteen-year-old who is struggling in his life. His girlfriend is helping him but he is falling for his male best friend. He is struggling with what it means and is given a way to help himself. A memory-alternating procedure can help him but leaves him wondering who he truly is. I love the concept of the memory-altering idea and what it means for person and who they are. The reviewer said this one was emotional and gave a lot of “feels.” I am hoping for an emotional journey.
Everyday by David Levithan is one of those books I have been wanting to get for a long time. I really love the other books I have read by Levithan and this one sounded really interesting. It is about someone who wakes up in a new body and a new life each morning. This concept is fascinating to me. I really liked the show Quantum Leap and this sounded similar. I am interested in what this story will end up being about.
Romance isn’t my favorite genre of story in either books or movies. Just a plain romance novel generally fails to hold my attention; which is why I tend to gravitate toward paranormal romances. I do like the romance element but I need a more substantial story with some type of fantastic element to keep me from getting bored or distracted. I have read a number of authors and books that are considered paranormal romance but Gena Showalter happens to be my favorite. And The Lords of the Underworld is my favorite of the many series she has written and is writing.
The Darkest Touch is actually the eleventh (and newest) book in the series. The Lords of the Underworld are immortal warriors that used to serve Zeus. They were his elite guard. One day they decided to kill Pandora and open Pandora’s box, upset because Pandora was given the privilege of guarding the box. In so doing they released the demons inside and as punishment Zeus then puts the demons inside each of the Lords. Each Lord houses one demon from Violence and Promiscuity to Pain and Misery. For many centuries they a ravage and destroy the world because they do not have control over their demons. Finally they each are able to get control. They split into two groups, one wanting to destroy their enemies the hunters and the others just wanting to live their lives without problems any longer. They rejoin once again when one of them ends up in trouble. The series is about the twelve of them finding love while also searching for Pandora’s box, in order to rid themselves of their demons and live their lives.
Darkest Touch is Torin’s story. Torin is infected with the demons of disease. He can’t have any type of skin to skin contact with anyone. If he touches anyone they sicken with some horrible disease and if they are mortal, die. If they are immortal they may survive but then they become a carrier of that disease and cannot touch anyone themselves. Torin is responsible for many of the plagues that have ravished the world.
All the Lords are very different and have a variety of personalities. Many of their traits are emphasized by their demons. Torin is a loner, he is terrified of hurting someone or causing someone else to be the one to hurt others. Out of fear he locks himself away. He is in charge of the computers and security system keeping him out of action. He hates being left behind and not being able to be around his friends but he believes that it is for the best.
That is until he meets Keeleycael, Keys for short. He meets her in a prison where she is being held, the same prison where he watches, yet again, as his demon kills someone he has become close to. Keeleycael is known as The Red Queen and she strikes fear in every heart whenever they hear her name. She is kind of like a spirit that is in-tune and connected to the Earth. She changes appearances with the seasons and her power is unrivaled.
Like many of the Lord’s stories the two love interests start by either hating each other or highly distrusting one another. Torin and Keys are both out to destroy one another when the story begins. Keys wants revenge for Torin killing a friend of her, (because he touched her) and Torin needs to get rid of her in order to make sure his friends stay safe. For a while they play a game of chase and attack, but as always happens in these stories they realize they are attracted to one another.
Gena Showalter has a kind of formula for her romances, at least for this series. The two love interests are initially only physically and sexually attracted to one another. (An FYI for anyone who has not read this series and is wanting to read it; the series can get very risqué. If it was a movie I would give it a rating of R without a second thought. The sex scenes are very graphic, so be warned if you plan on reading). They berate themselves for the attraction but quickly they realize they can’t shake the feelings. They are drawn to one another and this attraction pulls them together generally forcing them to work together in some fashion.The physical/sexual attraction pulls them together allowing an emotional attachment to begin to grow. In this book especially the, “I want to touch you but can’t,” is played up because of Torin being literally unable to physically touch Keys without grave consequences.
Torin has never been able to let himself be close to a woman and is actually a virgin. He has always been a kind of awkward and solitary man. He doesn’t want to get close to Keys and he hates how he feels but he slowly realizes that he doesn’t care. He values her life above all others, even his friends who are his only family. The Lords are constantly struggling with the idea that they have these demons who can make them to do terrible things and they don’t want to put the women they love in the path of possible death or destruction. All of them are terrified of hurting the one they have come to love and Torin is no different. He knows he could kill Keys and he will not do that, no matter how much it hurts him.
Another aspect of these books I really like is how strong so many of the women are. They do not take no for an answer and they don’t let themselves be pushed around. They don’t do what the men want all the time and they fight them tooth and nail many of the times. (Especially Lucians (Keeper of Death’s), significant other Anya.). Keys has power beyond anyone’s imagination and she is not going to be pushed around or handled with gloves. She has her own doubts about Torin but she fights for him just as much as he tries to fight for her.
Keys is unsure if she can trust Torin at first. She has been in a few bad relationships and as been taken advantage of. She is cautious and doesn’t open up easily. She needs to make sure he loves her and isn’t just using her because she can help him and his friends find a few items and people. As their relationship grows she sees that he would sacrifice everything for her and she lets herself be open to him.
The love story is the main aspect of the books but there is a very detailed and intricate plot that has been twisting and twining its way through all the books. It started with trying to just take out the hunters and find Pandora’s box but a number of new elements were thrown in and the story has gotten too complicated to be summed up here. People are constantly being kidnapped and tortured, one item is found only for something else to go missing or a new thing to be needed. One enemy goes down while another one shows up who is stronger. I love not only the love story aspect but this plot as well. It is full of mythology, mystery and action and I can’t wait to see what is going to happen next.
There was only one aspect of this particular book I was disappointed with, which may be rectified later. Baden, a Lord who died centuries ago, is finally brought back to his friends but we don’t get a real reunion scene which was disappointing. His whole return actually felt very quick and for a series they has developed so much, this element felt forced and hurried. I hope we get more about Baden in the last few books, and even a book of his own would be nice.
As with many romance novels some of the writing does get repetitive, (you want to touch each other but can’t, we get it), but it doesn’t draw you out of the story. Just as it may get boring or too much a wrench is thrown in putting you back on the edge of your seat. Each Lord, their significant other, as well as some side characters all have unique personalities. No one disappears completely from the story, all of them come back with their lovers and even children.
This is a fun and captivating paranormal romance series that will have you thrilled and anxious while also making you awe at the love story.