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REVIEW:  Mind Games by Kiersten White

REVIEW: Mind Games by Kiersten White

Dear Ms. White,

Despite hearing good things about your Paranormalcy trilogy, I haven’t had the chance to pick them up yet. My paranormal weariness usually results in my passing over books in favor of something fresh and new (to me). But when I heard that you were writing a thriller about sisters, I was intrigued.

Mind GamesFia and Annie were orphaned when their parents died in a car accident. Annie, the older sister, can see the future in confusing, fragmented bursts. But the younger sister, Fia, promised her parents she would take care of Annie, who also happens to be blind. After their parents’ deaths, Fia and Annie go to live with their aunt who is anything but thrilled. When an elite, but mysterious, school takes an interest in Annie, the aunt is more than willing to foist her unwanted burdens onto someone else.

Annie is excited about the school. They make all sorts of promises about restoring her eyesight, and this is more than enough reason for her to accept the offer. Fia, however, doesn’t want to separate and it’s not just the promise that makes her adamant. She has a bad feeling about the school and she’s learned to trust her instincts because they’re always right. Her stubbornness piques the interest of the school and as a result, both sisters are accepted.

In what is a surprise to absolutely no one, the school is not what it seems. It’s a training ground for girls with psychic abilities. And while it was Annie’s precognitive talent that interested the school, it soon becomes apparent that Fia has the more interesting power. Fia has perfect instincts. Her initial gut reaction is the correct one. It makes her perfect for stock trading, corporate espionage… and murder.

When Annie’s abilities fail to live up to their potential, Fia becomes the star of the school. But because she never trusted the school in the first place, she is uncooperative. As a result, the sisters’ relationship is turned against them. Annie becomes the hostage guaranteeing Fia’s good behavior and obedience. Fia does anything asked of her to ensure Annie’s well-being while Annie, in her gilded cage, does everything she can to save her broken sister from becoming a monster.

Having not read your previous books, I went into this book with no expectations. While this book is called a thriller, I don’t think that’s accurate. This was more the story of two sisters, the pressures their relationship undergo, and their many attempts to escape a prison that has broken and warped them. I’m a big fan of female relationships in fiction so I liked this. Readers expecting a dark thriller about corporate espionage and assassination might be disappointed, however. There are moments of unexpected, and somewhat brutal, violence but I wouldn’t call this book that kind of edgy and dark thriller.

The book alternates between the POVs of Fia and Annie. It is in the dreaded first person POV and at times, the narrative veers towards stream of consciousness. I thought it was effective most of the time but other readers may disagree. Despite my enjoyment of the narrative style, I thought the alternating POVs was the novel’s biggest weakness. Due to her rage, Fia’s voice is so much stronger than Annie’s and she stole the narrative show. Part of this is my bias. I have a soft spot for the broken, angry female characters, and Fia is definitely that.

But contrasting Fia’s rage against Annie’s naivete often put Annie in a bad light. It’s true they were young when they encountered the school and Annie let her own hopes cloud her common sense. When you’re young and inexperienced, I can see how you’d believe anything if it meant getting something you’ve always dreamed of. I definitely think the school capitalized on Annie’s trusting nature. But to go from her naivete to Fia, who was clearly mistreated from Day 1 as the school tried to figure out the exact nature of her abilities, was hard. It made Annie’s innocence seem willful in the face of all evidence suggesting otherwise.

On the other hand, I liked the complicated portrayal of their relationship. The traditional dynamic of older sister looking after younger sister was disrupted because of Annie’s disability. On some level, Annie resented this and that contributed to her willingness to believe the promises that her eyesight could be restored. She wanted to be the a proper older sister. But because she’d always been taken care of, she sucked at identifying the transformation being forced upon Fia until it was too late. And then we have Fia, who loves Annie and will do anything for her even if it means destroying herself, but who also resents the fact that Annie landed them in this mess. It’s ugly but I think that’s what makes it real.

This being YA, there are potential love interests. Of course there are. The story of Mind Games is kicked into motion when Fia fails to kill a boy and does everything to hide this mistake to spare Annie. Only she later discovers that it wasn’t the higher ups who ordered the hit; it was Annie. The target, of course, is the good boy in this set-up.  The bad boy in this equation is Fia’s handler. He’s also the son of the school’s owner. I was lukewarm about this apparent love triangle but my fears were misplaced. The novel’s focus remains on the sisters’ relationship and everything else is secondary to that. I will say that despite my overall dislike of the bad boy archetype in YA novels, the one in Mind Games has some surprising depth to him and I found myself warming up to him by the end.

While Mind Games doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, the story is not complete. It does end in a good place but there is no doubt that future adventures are in store. I’m definitely on board for the next installment and based on the novel’s ending, interested to see how the relationship between the sisters evolves from here. B+

My regards,

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REVIEW: A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink

REVIEW: A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink

Dear Ms. Zink,

I admit it. The lovely cover is what made me stop and give your new novel a second look. I’m a sucker for pretty covers, and I thought this one was highly effective for the genre. If only I could say the same for the content.

A Temptation of Angels by Michelle ZinkHelen Cartwright is the sheltered daughter of a British family. That all changes when her mother drags her out of bed one night and tells her to flee through a secret passage. She eventually does so but not before everyone else in the household is murdered and the family estate set on fire.

Before being told to flee, Helen was given a slip of paper containing a name and address. Left with nowhere else to go, she seeks help there and meets two brothers named Darius and Griffin. She learns that she, along with the brothers, are the last descendants of angels charged with the task of protecting Earth’s past, present, and future.

Over the past few months, their fellow descendants have been hunted down and murdered until the trio are all that is left. Now it’s up to the three of them to find the people responsible and stop the murderers from seizing control of the item that can grant them dominion over the entire world.

Summarized succinctly like that, it seems like there’s a decent story to work with here. Some interesting things could have been done with this foundation. But that is not at all what I got.

First of all, these angelic descendants have got to be the stupidest guardians of the world I’ve ever had the misfortune to read about. Let’s get this straight. Members of your order are being hunted down and killed one by one. What do you do? Do you run, hide, or stay in your house and do nothing? Two of those options make reasonable sense. One does not. Guess what they chose?

Secondly, the worldbuilding follows no logic I can parse. According to the rules set forth in this world, the angelic descendants aren’t allowed to learn about their heritage until they turn 17. Why? Do they go crazy? No clue. If there was a reason, I missed it. But that’s okay — instead of giving them straightforward training and education in preparation for the momentous responsibility of watching over the world, their parents teach them “games” that are really lessons in disguise. And when I say games, I don’t mean strategic ones like chess. I mean games like walking down the same street every morning.

WTF, why? There is no reason for this. If you’re waging an epic war against demons, wouldn’t it make sense to teach your next generation properly? This is the world we’re talking about here. Shouldn’t we take this task a little more seriously? Why would you teach your successors in the most obtuse, vaguest way possible? It should have occurred to someone that if all the adults were wiped out, the kids would be in trouble due to lack of adequate training. Way to go, good guys. Way to go. No wonder you’re losing.

This doesn’t even get into the fact that this book supposedly takes place in London. Sometime. In the past. I’m the first to admit that my knowledge of historical London is not so great. I don’t pick up on details the way I know other DA folk (reviewers and readers) do. But this book had no concept of setting whatsoever. There were points in the book where I had to stop and make sure it was a historical, not a modern-day story. Maybe I’m asking for too much, but you have to give me something to work with. You can’t tell me that something takes place in historical London and expect me to believe it if there are no period clues beyond wearing a corset.

And then there’s the romantic subplot. Could it have gotten any more paint by numbers? When Helen meets the brothers, I was truly fearful. Great, she’s going to be torn between two opposites — the nice brother and the mean brother. Could this get any more predictable? But then the book surprised me (the one and only time this happened, by the way) when it revealed the mean brother’s heart lay elsewhere.

That said, this doesn’t mean I was keen on Helen hooking up with the nice brother either. I’m tired of this insta-lust in YA novels. Do teenagers fall in lust at first sight? Sure. Am I going to buy it in a book where the heroine’s parents were just murdered and her house burned down? Not so much. Priorities, people.

Unfortunately, the circumventing of Helen being torn between the brothers didn’t mean we escaped from the love triangle trope. Another prospect named Raum is soon introduced and he’s even worse. This is not just a bad boy; he’s their enemy. I would rather Helen had been torn between the brothers than this. There were moments in the novel where Helen would choose to protect Raum and I saw no reason why, especially when you take into account his involvement with her parents’ deaths. It made me think less of her. We’re supposed to believe she’s torn up over their deaths, that she wants revenge. And yet she continually protects the guy who killed them.

Perhaps the book intended to portray Helen as conflicted and torn between all her various allegiances. The story doesn’t make sense otherwise. But the execution falls flat. As a reader, I didn’t find Helen conflicted. I found her TSTL. This was made even worse because all the boys in her life — even the nice brother — were jerks, especially when it came to Helen. They all treat her like an idiot, including the one who’s supposedly in love with her. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

There could have been a good book somewhere in all this, but the major flaws with the romance and worldbuilding prevented me from seeing it. I have no idea if this is the start of a series and I couldn’t care less. Combined with bland writing, I wish I’d spent my time reading something else. D

My regards,