Review: Sekret by Lindsay Smith

SekretSekret
by Lindsay Smith
Series:
Sekret #1
Publication Date: 01 April 2014
Roaring Brook Press, Hardcover, 341 pages
Source: Library

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An empty mind is a safe mind.

Yulia knows she must hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive in Communist Russia. But if she sometimes manipulates the black market traders by reading their thoughts when she touches their skin, so what? Anything to help her survive.

Russia’s powerful spy agency, the KGB, is recruiting young people with mind-reading capabilities for their psychic espionage program. Their mission: protect the Soviet space program from American CIA spies. Why shouldn’t the KGB use any means necessary to make the young psychic cooperate? Anything to beat the American capitalist scum to the moon.

Yulia is a survivor. She won’t be controlled by the KGB, who want to harness her abilities for the State with no regard for her own hopes and dreams. She won’t let handsome Sergei plan her life as a member of elite Soviet society, or allow brooding Valentin to consume her with his dangerous mind and even more dangerous ideas. And she certainly won’t become the next victim of the powerful American spy who can scrub a brain raw—and seems to be targeting Yulia.

Rating: ★★★½

I had had high hopes for Sekret since it was set in 1963 Russia (I have this weird fascination with the history of the country) and had psychics. That’s got to be a pretty good combination. However, when I just started reading it, I had been rather disappointed.

Sekret started off slow and unfortunately boring with the introduction to the KGB (KaGeBeznik), the fictional – I think – Russian spy agency featured in the story. Although the protagonist, Yulia, was just as new to life in the KGB as readers were, Yulia settled into the pattern a little too easily while readers were probably still trying to grasp the world-building. The world-building – despite being intricate – also seemed convoluted at times.

The main plot in Sekret revolved around the hunting down of a mysterious American spy who can literally scrub people’s mind clean and the work the KGB leader has for the young psychics in the KGB program. At this point, wipe any thoughts you have about a happy, enriching program for young adults with special abilities (like maybe in X-Men?) out of your head. The program Yulia and the other psychics were put in was nothing short of prison in a more hospitable package. Also, if they failed to cooperate or follow orders, either they themselves or their family and friends would be tortured, likely both mentally and physically.

With the given setting, Sekret had huge potential to make an exciting story but Smith channeled too much of a boring prison-like vibe, causing the plot to be slow and uninteresting at times. Moreover, some scenes’ description went a little over the top, including many details that only made the book duller instead of bringing it to life.

Moving on to the protagonist, Yulia wasn’t a very relatable character at first; her personality had seemed slightly messy and indistinct, and her impulsiveness made her come off a little stupid. It was clear she desperately wanted to escape the KGB and told herself about a gazillion times she needed to be smart and patient about it. However, the elaborate escape plans she came up with only sounds pretty good in your head because when applied to real life, they would inevitably fail. If Yulia was supposed to be a clever person, it definitely didn’t work out.

Yet towards the second half of the novel, Smith probably had a better grasp on the protagonist’s personality because that was when Yulia finally started acting like an unique individual and not a jumbled mess of various ‘traits a good protagonist should have’.

Prior to reading this novel and also towards the beginning, I was quite icky about the prospect of a love triangle. The synopsis made it sound like such a definite thing that was bound to occur. To those who’re feeling the same way I did, let me assure you there will be no love triangle, or at least nothing of the sort where the girl is indecisive and all she thinks about is which guy to pick. I promise there’s none of that nastiness.

Despite my complaints, I did enjoy the novel towards its end. The action finally picked up there and the characters at last did something effective out of their own choice and not that of the KGB’s. Oh right, and it was actually impressive and well-planned when they decided to properly use both their brains and their abilities in synchronisation. See kids, not that hard after all! By ‘kids’ I really mean the Yulia with crappy escape plans in the earlier part of the novel.

As for the historical accuracy of Sekret, I can’t say much about it because I’ve only studied up to Stalin’s Reign of Terror in History last year while Sekret takes place after that era. But from what I’ve seen in reviews from others, it was pretty accurate in the parts that were meant to be accurate.

Overall, I would say this was quite an okay book. I honestly didn’t have much hope for it while experiencing the snail-paced beginning but the unexpected and exhilarating end was definitely worth the boredom at the start. Would I continue reading the sequel? I guess similarly with most of the other books hovering around 3 stars, it would be a maybe.

Signature-Adel

Review: Of Triton by Anna Banks

Of TritonOf Triton
by Anna Banks
Series: The Syrena Legacy #2
Publication date: 28 May 2013
Feiwel & Friends, Hardcover, 246 pages
Source: Library

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WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR OF POSEIDON.

Emma has just learned that her mother is a long-lost Poseidon princess, and now struggles with an identity crisis: As a Half-Breed, she’s a freak in the human world and an abomination in the Syrena realm below. Syrena law states that all Half-Breeds should be put to death.

As if that’s not bad enough, her mother’s reappearance among the Syrena turns the two kingdoms—Poseidon and Triton—against one another. Which leaves Emma with a decision to make: Should she comply with Galen’s request to keep herself safe and just hope for the best? Or should she risk it all and reveal herself—and her Gift—to save a people she’s never known?

Once again, Anna Banks infuses Emma and Galen’s points of view with humor, intrigue, and waves of romance.

Rating: ★★★

I waited more than a year to read this book (the library took that long to finally get it on shelves and well, I wasn’t exactly willing to buy my own copy) and while I wouldn’t say I’m crazy in love with Of Triton, it wasn’t too bad either. When compared to its predecessor, Of Poseidon, though, I would no doubt pick the first book. That’s simply because while Of Triton had been pretty enjoyable, it lacked a certain spirit, as if the author had not whole-heartedly wanted to write a sequel.

The plot here was generally interesting, albeit a tiny bit predictable. I would say The Syrena Legacy is definitely on the light side, plot-wise, so don’t expect a lot of intense stuff. Unfortunately, I did expect the story-telling to be more humorous, like it had been in the previous novel. Without the wit and snark Emma possessed in Of Poseidon, the story lacked vibrancy and felt more like pieces of the plot were just being chucked at readers.

On the bright side, the pieces being chucked were nicely shocking and entertaining. I loved how Banks thought of unique problems Emma, as a half-breed, and her Mom, as the long-lost Syrena princess, would face in the world of Syrenas. Said problems were unexpected yet completely likely to happen in their situation, making them both surprising yet realistic. However, I do think the Syrena political conflict could have been better written as the Syrena population was rather dumbly oblivious to how the villains in the story were rather, well, for lack of better words, villainous.

As for the romance, we all know that Emma’s Mom (AKA, Princess Nalia) had been engaged to Grom, Galen’s elder brother, before the whole mine accident, after which everyone had thought Nalia died. The two (obviously) meets again in Of Triton and honestly, I was pretty weirded out by the whole mom-is-in-love-with-daughter’s-boyfriend’s-elder-brother situation. It was hard to swallow but well, I did manage to accept it in the end, since Grom did feel more like a father figure to Galen and Rayna than an elder sibling.

With all the issues that arose with Nalia’s return, I sadly have to admit Emma and Galen’s relationship was left in the backseat. It barely developed from where things left off in Of Poseidon so when all the “I want to spend my life with you.” stuff surfaced, it didn’t come off very smooth. Despite that, there’s still the last novel, Of Neptune, so there’s plenty of room for improvements.

To sum it up, Of Triton was a passably good and fast read but far from the likes of Of Poseidon. Personally, as a fan, I had been quite disappointed. I guess all that’s left to do is hope for a better conclusion in Of Neptune!

Adelena

P.S. Check out my stop in the Of Neptune Blog Tour for a chance to win a complete set of The Syrena Legacy!

Review: Split Second by Kasie West

Split SecondSplit Second
by Kasie West
Series: Pivot Point #2
Publication Date: 11 February 2014
HarperTeen, Hardcover, 360 pages
Source: Library

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WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR PIVOT POINT.

Life can change in a split second.

Addie hardly recognizes her life since her parents divorced. Her boyfriend used her. Her best friend betrayed her. She can’t believe this is the future she chose. On top of that, her ability is acting up. She’s always been able to Search the future when presented with a choice. Now she can manipulate and slow down time, too . . . but not without a price.

When Addie’s dad invites her to spend her winter break with him, she jumps at the chance to escape into the Norm world of Dallas, Texas. There she meets the handsome and achingly familiar Trevor. He’s a virtual stranger to her, so why does her heart do a funny flip every time she sees him? But after witnessing secrets that were supposed to stay hidden, Trevor quickly seems more suspicious of Addie than interested in her. And she has an inexplicable desire to change that.

Meanwhile, her best friend, Laila, has a secret of her own: she can restore Addie’s memories . . . once she learns how. But there are powerful people who don’t want to see this happen. Desperate, Laila tries to manipulate Connor, a brooding bad boy from school—but he seems to be the only boy in the Compound immune to her charms. And the only one who can help her.

As Addie and Laila frantically attempt to retrieve the lost memories, Addie must piece together a world she thought she knew before she loses the love she nearly forgot . . . and a future that could change everything.

Rating: ★★★★½

As those of you who have read Pivot Point might know, the ending was utterly crippling. It was the sort of ending that chewed up your heart and made you question how in the world an author can toy with your emotions so much. Following that, I predictably had very high expectations for Split Second and I’m glad to say this sequel definitely did not disappoint!

Firstly, this might seem slightly irrelevant, but it took me some time to realize that the girl on the cover is actually Laila. Admittedly, I originally imagined her as someone of a different ethnicity? I have no idea why, but maybe my brain’s just naturally multi-ethnic friendly. I’m just curious if anyone else felt that way too, though.

That aside, I once again loved the way the story unfolded in Split Second, just as I had with Pivot Point. While the first novel was told alternating between Addie’s two Search outcomes, this sequel alternated between Addie and Laila’s POV. Why did I love this? Back in the first book, I had the impression that Laila was a really jerky and lousy friend who was way too reckless and impulsive. However, after reading from her perspective, I ended up really admiring her character. Yes, Laila might still be irresponsible at times but her intentions are always good. She made plenty of mistakes, but that just created a much more relatable and real character.

As for Addie, I wish her presence had been a little stronger in this book. Because Laila undoubtedly stole the show here. Despite that, I still lived for all the Addie-Trevor moments. If your heart don’t melt a little at their situation, I think you have an unfeeling rock in your chest. Every time I’m reminded of their predicament, I feel like huddling in a corner to weep for days. Especially when Addie got back the memory of her Search that had Trevor in it (this isn’t a spoiler because we all know it’s going to happen sooner or later). I read that while taking public transport and lets just say I tried my best to hide them waterworks from the other passengers.

From the synopsis, it’s also pretty obvious there’s another blossoming romance involved – Laila and Connor. After the three books by Kasie West I’ve read so far (Pivot PointThe Distance Between Us and Split Second), I’m never doubting her skills at creating the best romances ever again. Every couple she comes up with has a perfect blend of cuteness, intensity, humor and chemistry. Laila and Connor are no exception. My only complaint is that the term ‘love’ was used a little too loosely with them. Laila and Connor had not seemed in love to me (it was too soon for that) but I could definitely see the potential of them falling in love. Sometime in the future, of course.

The plot in Split Second was pretty good but a lot less action-packed than I had expected, especially in contrast with its predecessor. Maybe because it was a lot more character-based than plot-based this time round. It’s not that big of a bother, really. Most likely because there are so many emotional moments the – very – slightly anticlimactic plot can be overlooked.

Although there were plenty of sad moments in Split Second, what really makes my heart break is that this marks the end of the duology. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind at all if Kasie West decided to write more books revolving around Addie an Laila. The ending of Split Second was awesome and wholly satisfying but I absolutely see room and opportunity for the plot to continue! It’s (kind of) official that this is the final book but well, one can always hope…

Finally, Split Second was a spectacular ending to an unputdownable duology. Rife with humor, near-perfect romance, a fantastic premise and stunning characters, I’ll be recommending both Pivot PointSplit Second, and all of Kasie West’s current and future works to those around me. I doubt I would forgot this duology anytime soon and if you have not started on it, you are without a doubt missing out on something mind-blowing in life.

Adelena