Brand new review: Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher

By Ekta R. Garg

March 3, 2021

Genre: YA fiction

Release date: February 16, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

A high schooler mourns the loss of her best friend after a terrible accident. When she receives an unexpected gift, she traces it to its origin and discovers a secret. Debut author Ashley Schumacher uses innovative prose to explore the depth of grief and the healing power of love in her novel Amelia Unabridged.

High school senior Amelia Griffin knows two things: she’s the biggest fan in the entire world of the Orman Chronicles by author N.E. Endsley, and Jenna Williams is her best friend. In fact, the Chronicles are the reason the girls became friends in the first place. Now they’re inseparable.

Ultra-planner Jenna has it all mapped out: they’ll leave hot, sticky Dallas and go to college at the University of Montana, have practical careers, and always be by one another’s side. Amelia is beyond grateful for Jenna’s friendship. After her father left in freshman year, her mother has spent all of her time either at a part-time job or in front of the TV. Amelia craves family, and Jenna and her parents give it to her.

In the summer before college starts, the girls travel to California to meet the N.E. Endsley. Famously reclusive, the young author has agreed to an appearance at a book festival. The publication date for the third book in the Orman Chronicles has been pushed out, but no one knows when the book will drop. Amelia and Jenna, like hundreds of other fans, have come to the festival hoping for answers.

An hour before the event, though, Endsley cancels, and in the Uber ride to the airport back to Texas Jenna reveals she’s partly responsible. The girls fight, and Amelia struggles to forgive Jenna. Less than two weeks later, during a study abroad program in Ireland, Jenna dies in a car accident.

Amelia doesn’t want to accept this new reality. How is she supposed to go to college without Jenna? How is she supposed to read books without Jenna?

Days after the funeral, Amelia receives a gift: a limited edition copy of the first book in the Orman Chronicles. When she calls the Michigan bookstore on the return label, though, they claim to have no knowledge of where the book came from. According to them, they never processed the order. Amelia and Jenna aren’t even in their computer system. Something about the bookstore employee’s explanation doesn’t ring true to Amelia. She decides to go to Michigan to find answers. If Jenna ordered the book for her, she wants to know the story behind it.

Her trip brings her to a little town in Michigan straight out of a fairy tale. Not only does Amelia find the bookstore that shipped her the gift, but also she meets N.E. Endsley himself. As Amelia works through her shock and her grief at the same time, she rediscovers the power of stories to transform anything and the healing factor of love.

Author Ashley Schumacher shines in her debut novel. Although the events in the opening pages move at a brisk pace, Schumacher doesn’t compromise on Amelia’s depth of gratitude for Jenna’s friendship nor the grief from losing Jenna. The emotions feel so real that the events following Jenna’s death make complete sense in the story world Schumacher has constructed.

Schumacher sets for herself a huge challenge. Creating a fictional novel that readers in the story world love and adore and making it just as appealing to real-life readers is not for the faint of heart. Yet she meets the challenge and endears Amelia to readers all in the process. The Orman Chronicles come across as an old-fashioned fairy tale, exactly the kind an older sibling might invent to keep their younger siblings entertained. Given Amelia’s challenges, it’s obvious why this type of story would appeal to her and reiterates the power of a good book in all the best ways.

Like many YA novels, the adult characters are somewhat underdeveloped or absent altogether. Making them more three-dimensional would have enriched Amelia and Jenna’s story even more. It’s a testament to the novel that the lack of that character development doesn’t hurt the plot. It would have been a rich addition but doesn’t take away from the lovely writing already in place.

Readers who love a good story about good books and good friends should definitely pick this one up. I recommend readers Bookmark Amelia Unabridged.

Brand new review: The Future is Yours by Dan Frey

By Ekta R. Garg

February 24, 2021

Genre: Science fiction thriller

Release date: February 9, 2021

Rated: Bypass it / 2 stars

Two friends create a piece of technology that they think will be the next gamechanger in Silicon Valley. As they work on the details, however, their friendship and other relationships—not to mention the fate of the world—are put at risk. Author Dan Frey tries to keep the mood lighthearted but also keeps his readers at arm’s length in the unsuccessful novel The Future is Yours.

Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry know they have the next big piece of tech on their hands—really. Former classmates at Stanford, the best friends are sick and tired of working their boring day jobs. When Adhi uses his Ph.D. dissertation to talk about a machine that allows users to see into the future, Ben knows it’s only a matter of time before they start rolling in the money.

The challenge, of course, is building the machine and getting investors on board. Ben leaves Adhi to work on the details of the technology itself; he freely admits that of the two of them, Adhi is the bona fide genius. Instead, he does what he always does best: leverage personal and professional relationships to get the money and lab space they need to build a prototype.

Soon enough, they have the machine built and start looking into the lives of their future selves. Ben is ecstatic at what he sees. Their company, which they call The Future, is disrupting every convention. He and Adhi are being hailed as the next hot inventors to come out of Silicon Valley. The parties, the money, the fame and attention—it’s everything Ben has always wanted.

Adhi is a little more reluctant about the entire venture. Although he started out as enthusiastic as Ben about The Future prototype, looking into events one year down the line proves to be unsettling. Along with all the good that will come to Ben and him, there are plenty of bad situations as well. People die; governments threaten one another. Sporting events get disrupted, and the blame is being put on The Future and its technology.

The friends begin bickering about their goals. Ben wants to push forward. Adhi says they need to reevaluate. As they start disagreeing about what they really want from The Future, issues with the prototype begin cropping up. It’s only a matter of time, Adhi argues, before what looked like a rosy life ahead actually might become a horrendous one.

Author Dan Frey chose an unconventional format for the novel. Instead of a straightforward narrative, the story is told through a series of emails, text messages, news articles, and Congressional records. The result is that readers will feel like they’re mostly on the outside of the action. They might find it hard to drum up much sympathy for Ben. Adhi is slightly more sympathetic as a character but doesn’t seem like a full-fledged protagonist in his own right. His role is more to support Ben’s ambition and hubris.

Also, while the friends begin their company after their graduate school days, the tone of the book sounds more like Ben and Adhi are still in college. Ben’s devil-may-care attitude seems fitting at first, but as a character he doesn’t change throughout the novel. At some point, his frat boy approach gets tiresome.

Other aspects of the book are left sorely undeveloped. Ben and his wife, Leila, have a tumultuous relationship, but readers don’t get to engage with that part of the story as much as is warranted. Frey positions Adhi as a dark horse figure, but it’s questionable by the end if Adhi has really succeeded at much of anything.

The technology, too, feels too vague to cheer on. Readers don’t get much more information on it other than the fact that it looks more or less like a standard computer and allows users to see one year into the future. Characters use the prototype almost exclusively “off stage,” which makes it harder to get excited about the machine.

The ending—as in, the last few pages—unravels the entire story, which might frustrate some readers. The novel starts on a promising note but doesn’t end strong. I recommend readers Bypass The Future is Yours.

Newest review: The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner

By Ekta R. Garg

February 17, 2021

Genre: Historical fiction

Release date: February 2, 2021

Rated: Binge it! / 5 stars

A woman moves across the country to get a new start in life. What begins as a situation with minor quirks becomes an earth-shattering reality, in more ways than one. Author Susan Meissner excels both in historical fact and compelling fiction in her newest book The Nature of Fragile Things.

At the turn of the 20th century, Sophie Whalen knows she needs to get out of New York City. She left behind her beloved Ireland to start life afresh, but the cramped, dingy living conditions in her tiny shared apartment are making it difficult to imagine anything clean and new. Add to that the horrible work in the factory, and Sophie is desperate to leave.

When she sees an ad in the newspaper offering her a way out, she jumps at the chance. A gentleman in San Francisco is looking for a mail-order bride. A widower, he needs a new wife to take care of his daughter. Sophie doesn’t even blink; she answers the ad, packs up her meager belongings, and jumps on the train across the country.

Sophie isn’t blind to the eccentricity of her situation, and she isn’t looking for romance. She just wants a quiet life in a home of her own, and she gets it with Martin Hocking…more or less. Martin doesn’t talk much, and his daughter, Kat, doesn’t talk at all. Martin confides in Sophie that Kat thinks her mother’s death is her fault but reassures Sophie that in time things will get better.

After bringing both Sophie and Kat to a new house in San Francisco, Martin leaves for a business trip. So starts Sophie’s new routine: getting to know her new home city and her new step-daughter. In no time, both charm her. Kat begins to open up to Sophie, and it seems as if life will finally start settling down. Although Sophie can’t quite figure out why Martin needs to be away so much for his job and why he’s so stiff around Kat, she decides not to question what is arguably a situation that favors her.

The questions do come from someone else, however. On an ordinary April day, a woman shows up on Sophie’s doorstep asking for answers that Sophie can’t provide. Within twelve hours, Sophie, the woman, and Kat barely survive a deadly earthquake and forever become tied to one another. As Sophie fights for survival, she starts to put together the odd pieces that make up her husband in a brand new picture that first frightens her and then emboldens her.

Author Susan Meissner grounds her book in such authenticity that readers will feel like they’re standing right next to Sophie as she disembarks the train in California at the start of the story. Meissner also chose to tell the story in flashbacks, a risky endeavor, but here it works. The scenes in the “present,” as short as they might be, propel the narrative forward and readers will be flipping or swiping pages as fast as possible to find out what happens next.

The entire book is a gem, but the sections that hit the hardest come during the earthquake itself. One of the most devastating events in California history, Meissner gives readers a virtual tactility with the disaster. The descriptions are incredible, offering readers all five senses before, during, and after the tragedy.

Sophie will win readers over as the determined protagonist, and Meissner doesn’t make things easy for her main character. The harder Sophie fights for answers, though, the more readers will cheer her on. Kat’s mutism is heartbreaking, and all of the women Sophie gets to know along the way show the strength of having a village full of loved ones.

Readers who enjoy historical fiction or a book about strong women will thoroughly enjoy this book. I recommend readers Binge The Nature of Fragile Things.