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REVIEW:  Come to Me Quietly by A.L. Jackson

REVIEW: Come to Me Quietly by A.L. Jackson

come-to-me-quietly-jackson

Dear Ms. Jackson,

One of my biggest guilty pleasure tropes is the one where the little sister gets together with the older brother’s best friend. So when I read the cover copy for Come to Me Quietly, I picked up your book without a second thought. I eat that stuff up with a spoon. But while it certainly delivered in that respect, I’m not sure it delivered much else.

Aly goes to college and works in a diner. She lives in an apartment she shares with her older brother, Christopher. It’s an easy, comfortable life. That changes when her brother’s best friend, Jared, comes back to town. With no place to stay, Christopher offers Jared their couch as a place to crash.

Aly has been in love with Jared since forever. When they were younger, she used to be the older boys’ shadow. Christopher reacted to this about as well as you’d expect a young boy would when it came to his tagalong kid sister. But Jared always defended her and took care of her. Then tragedy struck his family, sending Jared into a self-destructive tailspin that eventually drove him out of town. Aly never thought she’d ever see him again so she has every intention of taking advantage of this chance she’s been given.

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been exposed to lots of over the top or extremely angsty new adult novels, but I found Come to Me Quietly a little dull. Despite a promising beginning, it lacked intensity overall and as the novel progressed, what intensity there was dropped noticeably. Maybe another reader who’s tired of angst and melodrama would find this appealing. For me, though, it made the book seem longer than it actually was.

Part of it is the conflict. When I read a straight up contemporary with no other genre elements (suspense, mystery, thriller, etc), I actually expect the inherent conflict to be stronger because there are no external plot elements (a killer, a stalker) to mask that weakness. Here, the main conflicts are Jared coming to grip with his tragic past and Aly and Jared hiding their relationship from Aly’s brother.

For the latter, this worked initially but increasingly failed for me the further along I read. Eventually I reached the point where I wanted to shake these characters and say, “Just tell him already!” Secret relationships can work as a trope, but the execution here made me wish they would just have a conversation with Christopher. Sure, they’re awkward. Sure, they’re hard. But isn’t that part of becoming an adult in your 20s? Learning how to have those difficult conversations? Instead there’s a lot of creeping around and Jared sneaking into Aly’s bedroom (while her brother was often present in the apartment, might I note). It became repetitive and tedious.

As for the other conflict, the terrible thing that happened in Jared’s past is built up in a series of flashbacks interspersed throughout the novel. This is a tricky narrative device to use effectively and one that ultimately hinders the story here, I think. By the time the Bad Thing is revealed, readers will probably have figured it out already (or at least the gist of it) so the unveiling loses some impact. I do think there are some stories where the reader is meant to figure out the truth so that when the big reveal happens, it’s parsed as inevitable and yes, of course. But I didn’t get that impression here at all.

While Come to Me Quietly had some potential, the novel didn’t quite live up to those expectations. To top things off the ending is trite and speaking for myself, failed to deliver the emotional catharsis I look for in books like this. The fact that there’s apparently another book that continues the story of Aly and Jared (Why? What else is there to write about?) just dims my enthusiasm more. C-

My regards,
Jia

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REVIEW:  The Almost Girl by Amalie Howard

REVIEW: The Almost Girl by Amalie Howard

Almost-Girl-Howard

Dear Ms. Howard,

I’ve been in the mood for some YA science fiction so when your novel popped up on NetGalley, I perked up. The premise had potential. Parallel universes and a girl sent from one to another to find the twin brother of the crown prince of her own world. Yes, I realize this sounds like the science fiction equivalent of a portal story and you’d be correct but while I dislike portal stories in fantasy, I am fond of multiple universes in science fiction. What can I say?

Riven is a Legion General of Neospes, an apocalyptic world that was ravaged by a devastating android war. When the health of her best friend, the crown prince, begins to fail, she is sent to our universe to find his twin brother, who was hidden there at some point in the past, because the twin is her prince’s only chance of survival.

It takes three years but Riven finally finds Caden, Prince Cale’s twin brother. Now she has to bring him back to Neospes, but that’s easier said than done. Soldiers called Vectors have been dispatched from Neospes to take out Caden and bring Riven back to her home universe. In addition, there are the Guardians who have been charged with preventing people from jumping back and forth between universes. Worst of all, Riven begins to fall in love with Caden — a problem since the sole reason she’s bringing him back to Neospes is because he’s Prince Cale’s organ donor. Oops.

I was initially enamoured by the worldbuilding. No surprise to anyone who knows me. It was so interesting. There’s the contrast between Earth and Neospes. Given that Riven comes from a ravaged world, I can understand her fascination with earth and its massive amounts of water. There’s also the fact that jumping back and forth between universes has clear consequences in The Almost Girl. It’s hard on the human body and eventually, it begins to break down. If you jump too much, you die.

Sad to say, the novelty of the worldbuilding wore off quickly. I liked the idea of Riven. Despite being young, she’s a Legion General and feared warrior in Neospes. I was willing to accept her being a prodigy. Her father is an important scientist of Neospes, after all.

But here’s the thing: I expect prodigies to be smart and clever. Riven isn’t. The boy she’s been looking for these past three years? Is in one of her classes. How does she not notice this? He looks like the Crown Prince who she considers the most important person in her life! That’s a major oversight, if you ask me. Also, I have to point out that making out with a boy in the house you just broke into is a rather unfortunate tactical error.

I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a Legion General to be a kickass warrior, right? That’s a logical conclusion to draw considering fighters in Neospes prove themselves in a sort of obstacle course arena. But despite the fact that Riven does fight a lot, she also… tends to lose. A lot. She’s constantly knocked unconscious. In fact, her first meeting with Caden is triggered by her falling off her motorcycle. Speaking of Caden, the boy she’s supposed to bring back to Neospes saves her more than once and I don’t just mean the motorcycle accident. I mean in actual fights. I hate this trope. Oh, here’s a kickass girl but she can’t be too kickass. The guy — despite not growing up on an apocalyptic world filled with killer robots — is somehow just as good as, if not better than, her!

There were other things that bothered me. Riven makes a point to say that sexual assault doesn’t exist in Neospes because girls are taught to fight back. It’s not an issue that Riven is a Legion General, by which I mean there are no sexist comments directed towards her by the people who know her identity. But despite these apparently positive things, the book is filled with slut shaming. Riven is constantly calling Caden’s girlfriend a slut and a bitch. I guess only one type of “strong girl” is allowed? Any girl who doesn’t live up to these standards is a bitch. Any girl who’s feminine, blonde and thin must be a slut.

The connection between Riven and Caden is 100% pure instalove. I was never convinced she wasn’t just transferring unrequited feelings for Cale to Caden, who’s more approachable and accessible. I never really understood why Caden was into Riven other than the stereotypical “she’s so different from other girls” reason, which I think speaks for itself. It was also hard for me to get into their relationship because Caden did have a girlfriend and not only did that seem not to matter to him, the way he treated and talked about her was crappy. What a catch.

A brief highlight was Riven’s sister, who has been hiding on Earth, protecting Caden. I’m predisposed towards fictional sisters and their relationship promised juicy narrative twists. Riven was the favored daughter while the sister was branded a traitor. This backstory would definitely rebound into the present. But alas, it was — as I said — brief and over too soon.

The Almost Girl is an action-packed, plot-heavy novel. It definitely moves at a fast pace and I appreciated that. I just wish the plot developments weren’t so obvious and cliche, and that the characters were more likeable. C-

My regards,
Jia

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