(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
You have two options. You die, or you Qualify.
The year is 2047. An extinction-level asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, and the descendents of ancient Atlantis have returned from the stars in their silver ships to offer humanity help.
But there’s a catch.
They can only take a tiny percent of the Earth’s population back to the colony planet Atlantis. And in order to be chosen, you must be a teen, you must be bright, talented, and athletic, and you must Qualify.
Sixteen-year-old Gwenevere Lark is determined not only to Qualify but to rescue her entire family.
Because there’s a loophole.
If you are good enough to Qualify, you are eligible to compete in the brutal games of the Atlantis Grail, which grants all winners the laurels, high tech luxuries, and full privileges of Atlantis Citizenship. And if you are in the Top Ten, then all your wildest wishes are granted… Such as curing your mother’s cancer.
There is only one problem.
Gwen Lark is known as a klutz and a nerd. While she’s a hotshot in classics, history, science, and languages, the closest she’s come to sports is a backyard pool and a skateboard.
This time she is in over her head, and in for a fight of her life, against impossible odds and world-class competition—including Logan Sangre, the most amazing guy in her class, the one she’s been crushing on, and who doesn’t seem to know she exists.
Because every other teen on Earth has the same idea.
You Qualify or you die.
[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
Now, from the description of this novel you may be getting the impression that Qualify is one of those awful Divergent-Hunger Games hybrid novels that publishers think all teens want (again). That’s not really the truth, though. Qualify takes some of the good aspects of Hunger Games without the whiny factor of Divergent and makes something completely new and interesting.
Gwen Lark is really a klutz and a nerd. When she takes many of the tests to officially qualify as one of the ten million humans aged 12-19 that the Atlanteans will save, she really does fail quite a few of the physical exams. Sure, she gets better throughout the training and she really has to work hard at it, but she knows she’ll never be the number one candidate anywhere. In this way, it’s a lot more realistic than someone who goes from nerd straight to jock who can kick butt. But Gwen isn’t just a bumbling nerd; she’s got hidden talents that she’s terrified and really embarrassed about. When these come to light, they change almost everything for her.
One of the things that Vera Nazarian does is write long books that still hold a reader’s interest. Qualify is over 600 pages but you shouldn’t let that intimidate you because it really does keep your interest the whole way through. Sure, some things start out a little stereotypical in the beginning but Nazarian’s amazing descriptive style takes over and things smooth out pretty quickly. She really does focus a lot on inner conflict as well as interpersonal conflicts so if you’re looking for constant action, you’re looking in the wrong place. This is a really great look not only at the lives of regular teens under extraordinary circumstances but also a look at how the world really would handle a doomsday scenario like the one presented. At first there would be every effort to destroy or divert the asteroid, there would be collaboration with the mysterious Atltanteans who just showed up, etc. But after that? Things go back to an uneasy calm before the storm as people go into denial and then explode in anger at their impending doom. All the while, millions of teenagers are competing for the coveted 10 million worldwide spots. It’s horrific and fascinating at the same time.
While the characters and descriptions were great and the world-building was good, one of the things I noticed was a little rough was voice. The descriptions of Gwen’s surroundings are amazing and the descriptions of Atlantean technology are good as well but Gwen’s voice is a little rough. Sometimes her dialogue is incredibly mature for her age (16 bordering on 17) and other times she speaks and acts like a stereotypical teenager. It makes reading Qualify a little jarring at times and I think this could have been improved with a few more cuts to unnecessary passages. There is very little fluff in Nazarian’s story here but when there is fluff and filler you really do notice it. If Gwen’s voice had been a little more consistent, this would have been an absolutely amazing novel. Instead, it stays at ‘good’ or ‘above average’. However, having read just one of Nazarian’s other works, I think things will improve with the next book as she gets a handle on her new characters and new world because Gwen’s voice was much more consistent near the end.
So overall the writing is good if choppy in sections, Gwen is a well-defined main character with complicated thoughts, emotions and goals and the world-building is a little vague but there are some hints at amazing detail later on for Gwen and the readers to discover. Things get pretty intense sometimes and even though this book is around 600 pages, you’ll want to read it in one sitting. I know I did.
I give this book 4/5 stars.
It’s not where he appears, it’s when.
What if you’re born during another time grew up in the 21st century and thrust back into the past? Confused? So is architect, Evan Chronis.
Evan drawn by screams ventures out to his backyard and sees blood trickling down the limestone steps. He steps off the veranda and finds himself in the days of great and marvellous power, a time when the gods ruled the universe.
To return to the 21st century life he longs for, he must risk his life in search of powerful, treasured relics older than the Holy Grail. But what he finds might be more than he expected.
Will Evan find the relics and return home or will he remain forever stuck in a world so different from his own?
[Full disclosure: I was contacted by the author and provided with an ebook in exchange for an honest review.]
I’ve read quite a few of Luciana Cavallaro’s previous works so I was pretty excited to read Search for the Golden Serpent. The only problem was that she had previously only published short stories and I was a little worried about how she would transition into longer works like this one. After all, a 354 page novel is not the same as a 40 page short story. Still, I was more than ready to give her a chance. In the end, I honestly didn’t even need to worry in the slightest. Her debut novel is just as good as her previous short stories, even better in many ways.
Evan Chronis is a very memorable character. In the modern world he’s a successful architect who absolutely adores his job. Then Zeus decides that he’s needed back in his real time: the early years of ancient Greece, after the sinking of the mythical Atlantis. I don’t know about you but being immersed in the modern world and suddenly being contacted by a god who drops you in the ancient world would be a little jarring to say the least. Evan, understandably, really doesn’t handle it all that well in the beginning until he begins to speak the language and make friends. But poor Evan, called Evandros in his own time, doesn’t ever really get a break: Zeus and the other gods have sent him on a mission to recover powerful artifacts to prevent their eventual fading into historical fiction in the modern era.
He really does have a remarkable physical journey but also a mental and emotional one. When he goes back to the past he fights it tooth and nail, desperate to go back to our own time. However, when he realizes that his only option is to recover the artifacts he throws himself fully into the task. In the beginning Evan is also a little arrogant in his own way, utterly convinced that the people in the past are more primitive and somewhat inferior. Yet through his journeys he tends to appreciate them a little more and realize that many ancient cultures had more accomplishments than just their fantastic architecture. And when he befriends Phameas on the ship that rescues him and is forced to learn an entirely new language in a very short time, it sort of humbles him. He learns a lot on his journey and it was really interesting to see how his character changed throughout the course of the novel.
One of the things I absolutely loved is that Luciana Cavallaro has clearly done her research. She so vividly describes past cultures that we very rarely read about in historical fiction that you feel like you’re really there. From the streets of Carthage to the temples of ancient Egypt and a ship from Phoenicia, you will feel totally immersed in the world of the ancient Mediterranean. It’s brilliant because it shows old empires like Egypt and contrasts it with the rising might of the Greeks. It’s so rare in historical fiction to get a more international picture like this one and it’s a real treat to have it handled by an author with such a passion for history. Obviously Evan and his group are fiction but many of the main events and where they occurred are real. It’s absolutely fascinating and I’m not really doing it justice with this description.
The plot begins a little slow but that’s quickly remedied as Evan is contacted by Zeus and is forced to become Evandros, the version of himself that was raised solely in the past instead of just being born in it. I suppose some people will find Evan’s period on the Phoenician ship a little boring but I really enjoyed his adjustment period as he learned more about the world he was suddenly dropped into. It helps that Evan’s point of view is interspersed with scenes with the gods, who are more than a little worried about their fate as well as scenes with the rest of his crew, who are understandably wondering where the Evandros they knew and loved has gone and whether or not he’s even alive. By the time I got to the end of the book I was on the edge of my seat, anxious to see what would happen next. The ending was a cliffhanger but it was a good place to stop and it was a fairly satisfying end. It made me want more but I had fewer questions than when I started out.
Luciana Cavallaro really has a gift for making you care about her characters and their fates even if you don’t necessarily think they’re sympathetic or likeable. That much was obvious from her short stories but she really transitioned into a longer work really well. The beautiful descriptions that were the hallmark of her short stories for me are expanded and add so much more to the richness of the world she brought to life. So if you loved Cavallaro’s short stories, you will also love Search for the Golden Serpent. And if you’re never ready anything by her, you need to pick up one of her short stories and/or pre-order a copy of her debut novel. You certainly won’t regret it.
I give this book 5/5 stars.
(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
Seventeen-year-old Emma Harris is drowning on dry land.
No one knows what’s happening to her, and she’d like to keep her evolution from human to mermaid a secret, but the truth is getting harder and harder to hide. From her adoptive family, from her friends, and especially from the irresistible James Phelps.
Her time in the ocean is spent dodging a possessive merman, while her time on land is split between caring for her special-needs brother and squeezing in every last possible moment of human life. She soon realizes falling for James is unavoidable when he constantly comes to Emma’s rescue and somehow manages to see through her carefully constructed icy facade to the vulnerability she lives with every day. Everything about James makes Emma yearn for a life on land she just can’t have.
When Emma’s brother disappears on her watch, James is the only person she trusts to help her save him. But even if they can save her brother, nothing can prevent her return to the sea. Whether she likes it or not, Emma is changing—unable to breathe without yielding to the tide—and it’s only a matter of time before she’s forced to surrender forever.
[Full disclosure: I requested and received an ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
One of the things that was the most striking about Water So Deep was the world-building. I haven’t read a lot of mermaid books but the way Nichole Giles portrays her mermaids makes a lot of sense to me. Emma, our main character, is a changeling, meaning she appears human now but she’s been gradually shifting into her natural mermaid form. Unfortunately for her, this means that it’s getting harder and harder to breathe just air; she has to go swim underwater for hours at a time with growing frequency. In the past, she could last a week without swimming and by the time our story starts, she has to go swimming for a couple of hours every other day or so. Like I said, this is one of the more ‘believable’ human-to-mermaid stories (inasmuch as a fantasy creature can be believable) and it’s also one of the more enjoyable because it adds just another complicated layer onto Emma’s already complicated life.
The characters were both good and bad. Emma herself is a great character as are James, her love interest, and Keith, her developmentally disabled brother. She was nearly raped and beat up a year previously by one of the popular jocks at school so when she starts her senior year she’s a complete outcast. James, being the new guy, knows nothing of her history and is quite taken with her. This starts a push-and-pull dynamic between the two, with Emma feeling very conflicted about her growing feelings for James and the knowledge that she’ll have to leave him at the end of the school year because she’ll be a full mermaid. We also get to see things from James’ point of view as he falls in love with Emma and tries to understand and help her with her problems. Will he be able to succeed where Gran (who knows the truth about Emma) has failed?
But while those two were awesome characters, my actual favourite was Keith. Keith is moderately developmentally disabled; he’s quite innocent and sweet and has a bit of trouble with his grade level work but at the same time he’s quite capable of doing things on his own. What struck me the most about Nichole Giles’ characterization of him was that she doesn’t make him out to be a Magical Disabled Person capable of things above what normal people can do and she doesn’t make him into a Pitiable Disabled Person, someone who can’t do anything for themselves and needs to be helped constantly. He has his strengths and he certainly has his struggles; it’s a very nuanced human portrayal of an intellectual disability, one that is really quite rare in YA, let alone ‘adult’ fiction.
The only character that was not very good was Merrick, the possessive merman mentioned in the blurb. Throughout the novel Giles’ portrayal of him is quite good: he sees Emma as a prize, a reward for being the guard to Atlantis as well as one of the very few merfolk that can assume a human form. And because he feels entitled to her, he also treats her like an object at times, infuriating Emma to no end. Without delving too deeply into my own experiences, the way she describes Merrick’s gaze, that mixture of entitlement, lust and a bit of anger is so realistic it makes me shiver. So why did I say Merrick wasn’t a very good character? I can’t tell you precisely because that would spoil the ending but let’s just say that his character does a total 180 at the end of the novel with no lead up to it and it really doesn’t fit with his earlier characterization. It just feels odd, like he’s the Deus ex Machina for Emma instead of the antagonist.
And that leads right into the problem with Water So Deep: the plot. Don’t get me wrong, the plot is absolutely amazing for about 90% of the novel. It’s slower than your average YA novel because it’s very largely character driven but you never really get bored because we switch between Emma and James to see both of their sides of the story. That keeps the pacing consistent, if slow and because Nichole Giles has such a beautiful writing style it didn’t bother me in the least. She is excellent at making you feel the characters’ emotions and sympathize with their struggles, more so than you would with your average YA author. However, the problem with this novel was in the ending. Again I can’t say much without spoiling things but the events leading up to the ending were logical but the ending itself was awful. It made sense in the context of the story in general except for Merrick’s total 180 but it was very abrupt and rushed. Really, it felt like Giles realized she had reached her word count limit or something and just had to stop. The problem is that the ending is very ambiguous, which would not be bad if there was a sequel or at least more of a hint of the fates of the characters.
I was so involved with these characters and kind of concerned about the possibility of there not being a sequel that I actually contacted the author to ask if there would be one, to which she replied: “To answer your question, yes, there will be at least one sequel.” She’s hoping for fall of this year, so thank goodness for that! It’s a testament to her writing skill that I was so involved with the characters and so concerned about their ambiguous fates that I actually contacted her. Believe me when I say that I’m so glad that there will be a sequel. So despite the overly dramatic cliffhanger at the end, I did love Water So Deep and I’m very much looking forward to the sequel. If anything I’ve said in this review intrigues you, go check out the book! It officially releases on February 2 of this year.
I give this book 4/5 stars.