Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

About Jia

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

Posts by Jia :

REVIEW:  The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings

REVIEW: The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings


Dear Ms. Cummings,

I think we’ve reached that stage where post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels are being labelled something else to circumvent disenchantment. I obviously have thoughts about this because given the flood of such books over the past few years, readers can spot them no matter what you call them. The Murder Complex is being touted as a futuristic thriller but don’t believe it. This is a dystopian, albeit more action-packed than we’ve grown to expect from the subgenre.

Now I like action. I think many dystopian novels could have been vastly improved had there been more of a balance between external action and internal monologuing. But balance is exactly what The Murder Complex is missing. Except in this case we swing wildly in the other direction to all action and little meaningful character development.

First, we have our two viewpoint characters: Meadow and Zephyr. (I don’t even know where to begin with these names.) Meadow lives on a houseboat somewhere in futuristic Florida with her father, older brother, and little sister. Zephyr is an orphan who, from what I’ve been able to gather, is charged with picking up garbage around the city. But wait, here’s the twist! Meadow was trained by her fisherman father to be sociopathic killer. As for Zephyr? Well, he’s a sleeper assassin whose mission is to kill randomly picked citizens as some convoluted form of population control. If you’re beginning to raise your brows, just wait. I haven’t even gotten to the worldbuilding yet.

In fact, I don’t even know how to explain the worldbuilding. While I’m not a fan of the Infodump School of Worldbuilding, giving bits and pieces of the setting via the narrative only works if they make sense and form a cohesive whole. From what I was able to put together, there was a plague at some point. Then a teenaged genius (Meadow’s mother, naturally!) finds a cure involving nanotech and the world is saved! Except the nanotech means that disease and injury are no longer things that happen and the population gets out of control. Resources have to be carefully controlled and rationed by the government, here called the Initiative. This led to the formation of the Murder Complex (translation: the sleeper assassins) to control population growth. On top of that, I’m fairly sure there was some sort of war that razed the earth because everyone lives in the city and doesn’t venture out. Also, there are pirates and crazed, garbage-covered mobs that roam around attacking people. (Why? Just because!)

There are other elements I’m omitting here because they venture into spoiler territory but while I’ve done my best to make sense of the worldbuilding, trust me when I say the execution is random and disjointed at best.

There are elements that sound like they should make for an interesting story. Meadow’s genius mother, Lark, is missing and presumed dead but she casts a long shadow over our heroine’s life. Responsible for the cure that saved humanity, and later doomed it, Lark was a key member of the Initiative and the mastermind of the Murder Complex. What happened to her? Did she betray the Initiative? Was she killed because the government found her? There’s great potential for the mystery of Lark but what actually happens in the book is both underwhelming and ridiculous.

Similarly, Zephyr falls instalove with Meadow. Why? Because he’s been dreaming of her for a long time. Meadow is his silver-haired dream girl, you see. (I’m choosing to believe “silver” is just a frou-frou way of saying “sun-bleached” or “platinum blonde” so please let me retain that delusion if I’m wrong.) That’s… okay, I guess, but this gets a weird connotation because Lark is the one who raised Zephyr and trained and programmed him into being a sleeper assassin in the first place. Seriously, Lark’s voice is the one he hears in his head when he gets his orders to kill. And Meadow got her “silver” hair from Lark. It’s weird, right? Does Zephyr dream of Meadow because there’s some unexplained connection to her via the programming done by Lark? Or does he dream of a younger version of Lark? I feel uncomfortable about this either way.

Ultimately, The Murder Complex fails for me because of a simple reason: the characters. Lots of things happen. So many things happen over the course of the book, in fact. But I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of it because I didn’t care at all about any of the characters. Not Meadow. Not Zephyr. When I don’t care about the protagonists, it doesn’t matter if they’re wanted by the government or being chased down by pirates. And it certainly won’t hit me hard when I learn the (not all that surprising) truth about Meadow’s mother.

The Murder Complex gets compared to La Femme Nikita and Hanna, and I can see why. It’s full of cinematic-style action and violence. But I love Hanna because I loved the characters as well as the action and violence. And there is no getting around the fact that a book is not a movie. You can do things with the written word that you cannot do with a movie and vice versa. Namely, especially in the YA genre, the ability to get into the characters’ heads and get a strong sense of their personality and feelings. I think The Murder Complex might have forgotten that along the way. D

My regards,

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REVIEW:  Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

REVIEW: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour


Dear Ms. LaCour,

I’ve been on a contemporary kick lately. Something to distract me from my speculative fiction funk, I guess. I haven’t read any of your previous novels but after Everything Leads To You, I think I’ll be tracking them down.

Emi Price is a high school senior who lives in L.A. Her older brother is a location scout and through him, she was able to land an internship as a set designer. But this isn’t really nepotism — Emi is talented. Young, sure, but talented at what she does.

Unfortunately, her love life is a disaster. Her girlfriend just broke up with her for the sixth (yes, sixth) time and Emi knows it’s only a matter of time before Morgan comes back around and charms her way back into Emi’s life. Thankfully, something pops up into her life that provides a welcome distraction.

When she goes to the estate sale of a deceased American Western movie icon, she discovers a letter tucked into an old record. That letter sends her on a quest, leading her to the movie icon’s daughter (also deceased) and from there, to the man’s granddaughter, Ava.

How great is it to read a contemporary YA romance about lesbians, without making it about coming out or being angsty about it. There’s nothing wrong with those types of books. We definitely need them but I also think it’s good to have other kinds of stories too, ones in which the teen lesbians have already come to terms with their sexuality and the people who surround them are totally okay with it. Emi’s love of girls is a complete non-issue and I love that.

I really liked Emi’s passion. It’s different — being a set designer. It’s like being an artist but not in the traditional way in which we think about it: painting, sculpting, drawing. Following along Emi’s quest to make the perfect set, I felt like I got a glimpse into what it’s like to put together the perfect room, all the little details that capture a time and place and evoke a mood in a movie. I think back to all the movies I’ve watched, from summer blockbuster to indie arthouse, and feel exhausted, thinking about all the work that went into putting those kitchens together!

Emi falling in love with Ava was inevitable, I think. But I like that it was tempered by Emi’s past relationship with Morgan. Morgan was Emi’s first place and she held on to that for longer than she should have, always taking her back even when Morgan didn’t love Emi the same way (or at all) that Emi loved her. The last thing she should be doing is jumping headfirst into another relationship, especially with someone whose life is about to take a complete 180. On the other hand, maybe this is one of life’s little mysteries and maybe she should anyway!

I thought Everything was a love letter to movies. If you love movies and the making of movies, I definitely think you should pick this book up. But I also think it’s a book about not waiting for the perfect moment like in a movie because life is not a movie and that perfect cinematic moment may never come. Sometimes you only get the one chance.

I really liked this book. I wasn’t sure what to think of it in the beginning but halfway through I fell in and couldn’t come up for air. Three cheers for heroines with unusual jobs that they’re passionate about. I hope other contemporaries about queer teens where being queer is a non-issue become a thing. (I don’t think they should replace all the coming out stories but I want to believe both types of stoties can co-exist in harmony.) For now, I’m going to look for your other books! B

My regards,

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