ARC review: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonGoodreads
Publication Date: March 24, 2015
Source: ARC via Netgalley

On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other.

Ori’s dead because of what happened out behind the theater, in the tunnel made out of trees. She’s dead because she got sent to that place upstate, locked up with those monsters. And she got sent there because of me.

Violet is an impulsive, self-involved ballet dancer who’s prone to bad decisions. Her best friend allegedly killed two girls, but Violet’s wealthy, well-connected family made sure that her name wasn’t connected to the crime. Violet seems lost now – she has more enemies than friends, and she doesn’t seem to particularly care for any of the friends that she has. None of that matters, though, because she’s headed off to Juilliard in a few weeks, where she’ll train with the best ballet dancers in the country. A position she never would have been in if Ori was still around.

Amber was sent away to Aurora Hills three years ago, after being tried and convicted for the murder of her stepfather. She’s learned to keep her temper in check most of the time, but occasionally she’ll still explode, under the right circumstances. Above all else, Amber loves books, especially her job in the facility’s library. And it’s through Amber that the magical realism of the book really begins – one night, the doors to Aurora Hills magically unlock, and the guards are all otherwise occupied. In the chaos that surrounds the facility, Amber bumps into someone who doesn’t belong. That someone is Violet, but how did she get there, and who let her in?

Through Violet and Amber’s narration, we meet Orianna, a seemingly perfect ballerina who doesn’t fit the stereotype of a young offender. Ori is cool, calm, and collected. Nothing ruffles her feathers, she gets along with everyone, and she works to find the good in everything, even her time at Aurora Hills. As the most talented dancer her town had ever seen, Ori was going places… until the night that she allegedly mudered two of her classmates – brutally – outside of the ballet studio. Ori doesn’t seem guilty, but she doesn’t claim to be innocent, either. The question on everyone’s mind is how could someone as perfect as Ori be capable of doing those awful things?

The answer lies in the narration. We know that Violet in particular is an extremely unreliable narrator. In fact, she herself seems confused about what happened – or didn’t happen – on the night in question. Or maybe she’s not confused. Maybe she’s deluding herself, and the reader, into thinking she doesn’t remember.

Because it’s clear from the beginning that Ori was a much better friend to Violet than Violet was to Ori, and Violet has always been jealous of Ori’s natural talent. She describes Ori having to hold herself back so that the two of them could stay in the same class. She’s envious the loving relationship Ori had with her boyfriend. She doesn’t understand why the other girls in their ballet class would make fun of her, but not Ori. Everybody liked Ori. Ori got away with everything.

Amber isn’t much better as a narrator. While we saw the bitterness surrounding Violet’s feelings toward Ori, we see the complete opposite with Amber. To Amber, Ori is almost an angel. She’s perfect, solving problems and making people feel better. Always doing the perfect thing at the most perfect time. Behaving exactly as she should. Excelling at everything she does. It almost seems that Ori could literally murder someone in front of Amber, and Amber would still think the world of her.

One of the best things about this book is that it never really becomes clear. We never know if Ori is as perfect as Amber makes her out to be. Even the ending is unclear – I finished this book days ago and I still don’t know what to make of it. But one thing is for sure: The Walls Around Us is definitely worth your time. The book is incredibly well-written, with an almost perfect, effortless flow. The narration is mysterious, with a sometimes creepy vibe. The only qualm I had with this book is that the girls all have the same voice, which makes the switch between narrators a little confusing. This is, however, very minor, and doesn’t detract from the story.

In the end, I highly recommend the Walls Around Us to anyone who enjoys ghost stories, magical realism, and/or young adult fantasy.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy!

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m checking off #4: a book published this year.

Goodreads | Amazon

In Truth or Dare, we met Maggie, Tyler, and all their friends. It was a book filled with instant attraction and a whole lot of angst. Touch & Go, the second book in Mira Lyn Kelly’s Dare to Love series, centers around Ava and Sam, minor characters from Truth or Dare. I would suggest starting with Truth or Dare before picking up Touch & Go to get a sense of who these characters are and how they’re connected… but if you’re pressed for time, you won’t be missing anything too major if you just jump right in.

Ava and Sam have been best friends for twenty years. They’ve been inseparable since the first day Sam wandered into her neighborhood and, shortly after, became an honorary member of her family. They’ve been together through thick and thin, so surely their friendship can survive one fake date, right?

Ava’s being pestered by a guy at work. To give him a not-so-subtle hint to leave her alone, she asks Sam to pretend to be her boyfriend at a party. It doesn’t take long for them to get a little too into their roles, and they can’t deny the chemistry when they kiss. One kiss turns into one night, which turns into several nights, which turns into broken hearts.

Can Ava and Sam have a happily ever after? Can they even repair the damage they’ve done to their friendship?

Let me just say that best friends falling in love is pretty much my favorite type of romance. I’m a sucker for the build up and the fallout. Add in some genuinely funny characters, the right amount of sweetness, and a healthy dose of sexual tension, and I’m done for. I stayed up half the night reading this one, and then resumed first thing in the morning to finish.

I enjoyed Touch & Go even more than Truth or Dare, and I can’t wait for the next book in the series to come out!

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy.

Final rating: ★

Book review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 16, 2011
Source: Gift

In the year 2045, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

Going outside is highly overrated. 

Wade Watts lives in a bleak, and probably fairly realistic, version of our future. It’s 2044 and we’ve got an energy crisis, a lack of food, overpopulation, and a recession. Most people live in literal stacks of trailers. Much of the time, it’s not even safe to leave your home. Suffice it to say that it’s not a great situation. To escape the miserable state of reality, James Halliday invented the OASIS, a giant virtual reality in which anyone with an internet connection can immerse themselves in a completely different world. Like most people, Wade spends most of his time in the OASIS. It’s where most shopping and socializing are done, where meetings are held, and even where Wade goes to school.

Since there are no limits to what Wade (aka Parzival) can be in the OASIS, he absolutely lives and breathes it. When Halliday dies, news quickly spreads that he left his entire fortune, and control of the OASIS, as an elaborate Easter egg within the game. OASIS users obsessively dig through every corner of the virtual reality, trying and failing to make sense of the vague clue that Halliday left before his death. After a number of years, the scoreboard is still blank, and everyone but the most dedicated hunters have given up hope. Suddenly, Wade has a revelation and Parzival becomes the first to discover the meaning of the first clue. As his name appears on the scoreboard, he’s skyrocketed to immediate fame and the rest of the world watches for him to figure out the next move – or fall flat on his face.

Ready Player One had been on my radar for a number of years, ever since I saw a friend post a glowing review of it shortly after it came out. I was lucky enough to get a copy for Christmas this year, and pretty much devoured it chapter by chapter at every chance I could get.

The beginning in particular really appealed to me. The creator of OASIS, James Halliday, was notoriously obsessed with the 80’s, which would have been his childhood. Because of this, Halliday’s Easter egg challenge is chock full of 80’s references – from movies to tv to music to games. My favorite parts of the book were those where scenes from famous 80’s movies were recreated. Some of my favorite movies are from the 80’s, and I could practically see the scenes playing out in my mind.

Most of the references in the book are to video games, and while I’ve never been too interested in playing them, I still understood the majority of those references. Of course, the more obscure ones did go over my head, but not to the point where I stopped enjoying what I was reading. And of course a book about a guy obsessed with video games is going to contain a multitude of video game references, so they weren’t out of place, either.

As for the actual story, the plot moves along at a nice, steady pace, neither too fast nor too slow. The characters were great. I loved Wade, and Aech and Art3mis really grew on me as well. The bad guys are believably evil, and the good guys aren’t perfect. The book maintains a good balance between action and character development, and is overall very well-written.

Ready Player One really plays out like a movie, and I would be thrilled to watch it on the big screen. As it is, I highly recommend it to anybody who wants a good story with a heavy dose of nostalgia.

For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m checking off #5: a book with a number in the title.

Currently Reading: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

“Ori’s dead because of what happened out behind the theater, in the tunnel made out of trees. She’s dead because she got sent to that place upstate, locked up with those monsters. And she got sent there because of me.”

The Walls Around Us is a ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries.

We hear Amber’s story and Violet’s, and through them Orianna’s, first from one angle, then from another, until gradually we begin to get the whole picture—which is not necessarily the one that either Amber or Violet wants us to see.

Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and innocence, and what happens when one is mistaken for the other.

Interested?  Goodreads has 35 copies available through January 27, 2015.  Enter to win here.

ARC review: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Goodreads | Amazon

“Once upon a time, there was a family of strong wills,” she says, voice slow and measured as a pendulum. “They did not love one another. But together they presided over a farm. And on that farm, there were hounds, and bitches, and dairy cows, and hens, and cocks, and sheep, and mules, and horses. The family kept the beasts in line. And the beasts kept them rich, fat, and happy. Now, the beasts obeyed because they knew the family was strong, and to disobey was to suffer their united wrath. But one day, when one of the brothers struck his brother over the eye, a cock said to a hen, ‘Darling, matronly hen, what would really happen if you stopped laying eggs for them?’” 

Golden Son begins two years after the conclusion of Red Rising. While his friends and classmates relaxed, confident in their new positions as Peerless Scarred, Darrow trained. He fought. He prepared to topple society from the top. As Golden Son begins, Darrow is nearing the end of his time at the Academy, where he has learned how to command an army. While the Institute taught him how to win people, the Academy has taught him strategic maneuvers and how to command fleets of aircraft to win a war.

The book feels simultaneously similar to and different from Red Rising. Mustang, Sevro, and Roque are back, and joined by a whole new cast of characters to either love or despise. Just as before, every character has their purpose. Prepare yourself: you will become attached, and your favorite characters will die in the most tragic ways possible. Darrow will claw his way to the top, using his anger at what was done to his wife, what was done to his closest allies, in an attempt to destroy the status quo. He will gain and lose trust, gain and lose friends. He will have to remind himself why exactly he’s fighting, and whose dream he’s fighting for. He will have to decide how many friends to betray along the way.

I have read many reviews of Red Rising that complain of Darrow’s perfection. I have good news for those readers: Darrow’s perfection is shattered in Golden Son. Gone is the boy who always knew what to do. Gone is the boy who got by with just his wits and his luck. In Golden Son, Darrow struggles. He falls from grace. His brilliant plans are thwarted by equally brilliant rivals and traitors within his inner circle. He makes bad decisions. He constantly second guesses himself. He takes his rebellion a little too far at times, accepts other Colors a little too freely, and his friends no longer blindly support him. He acts like an actual person rather than the perfect symbol of rebellion that he was before. I actually liked Darrow a lot more in Golden Son, because he seemed more real to me.

So if everything was this great, why is my rating lower for Golden Son than it was for Red Rising? It’s little things. I felt like the pacing was a little uneven. And unlike Red Rising, I felt like Golden Son was better outside of the battles, when Darrow was trying to repair his friendships and decide who he could trust. I loved this book, but for me, Red Rising was just a little bit better. Still, the ending had my heart pounding and I will be holding my breath waiting for Morning Star’s release.

A huge thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy!

Final rating: 4.5/5

[Golden Son is the second book in the Red Rising trilogy.  See my review of book #1, Red Rising here, or on Goodreads.]