Double Review: What’s Left of Me and Once We Were

A few months ago, some fellow bloggers and I decided to form an online book club where we would chat quarterly about a book we had chosen to read. Our first book of choice was What’s Left of Me by Kat Zhang. While buying the book at a local bookstore, I was informed that Kat is local and was going to be coming there in a couple of weeks to sign books, including her second book Once We Were, which would be available for sale a couple of weeks before it would be available everywhere else! So I came back a couple of weeks later to grab the second book and to have both signed.

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I knew then that I would have to read the books back-to-back and review them both together! My feelings for both, overall, are positive. There are mild spoilers below for both books.

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The concept for the series is interesting: everyone is born a hybrid, with two souls in one body. However, one soul is supposed to “settle” over time, essentially just disappear and allow the dominant soul take control. However, as we discussed in our group chat, we were filled with many questions: How is everyone born with two souls? How does one just fade away? How awkward is it to hear someone else’s thoughts alongside your own?

Eva is the POV character in both books, and she is the more silent soul trapped inside a body shared with Addie, the dominant soul. Though Addie is more dominant, Eva has never completely faded away, always present in Addie’s mind. The only true problem this seems to present is the secrecy of it, though it is hard for Eva to cope with the inability to move their body herself, or to experience things for herself, like a kiss or even practicing a hobby she enjoys. She feels completely alone until a girl from school, Hally, reveals that she too is a hybrid and offers to help Eva be able to take control of hers and Addie’s body. Unfortunately, Hally/Lissa, Addie/Eva, and H/L’s brother Devon/Ryan are all found out and taken away to a facility. By the end of book one they manage to escape the facility, and book two is about the characters trying to hide their identities, meeting with other hybrids, and partaking in some revolution efforts.

What I liked about both books:

I liked Eva’s arc. At the beginning of Once We Were, I wasn’t even sure if I would like her. I was still slightly weirded out by the concept that Eva was alone and detached in someone else’s body, watching everything from a distance. Honestly, she felt so detached I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to connect with her, but thankfully somewhere before page 100, I finally started to feel that connection and she started to feel more real.

I also really like Ryan, the slightly less dominant soul of Hally’s brother Devon. He and Eva have a bond that is clear early on, and they grow closer together throughout the first book. By the second book they are more or less together, as much as you can be in such a situation as they are, but I am not sure if their relationship really flourished. But once again, of course it is difficult under the circumstances. Just the same, I liked how sweet he was, and I would consider him my favorite character.

I also enjoyed both the writing style and the story itself (more so for the first book than the second though).

What I did not like as much:

The world-building is vague. When does the book take place? All through the first book I was wondering, this is in America, right? (The second book confirms this.) Why does it seem pretty contemporary in every way except in that not everyone has a computer? And to further complicate all my questions, we hear references to wars that sound like they are wars we really fought, The American Revolution and the World Wars, but the names are slightly differently and the propaganda from the government makes it seem like it all had to do with hybrids. I could buy that if I understood why. But in the second book there is still no explanation. The second book does talk a little bit more about the world, but it still left me quite confused. I suppose I should take it as some sort of alternate version of our world, a sort of “what if everyone was born with two souls?” question that is plopped into what we know, but it’s hard for me to know for sure. I like to know exactly where I am in place and time.

Also, the level of action in these two books, while admirable because I enjoy good action, almost goes overboard. Addie/Eva is a normal girl but she’s jumping out of windows, coming toe-to-toe with baddies, dealing with bomb-related activities… I’ve seen Red Dawn, and I understand drastic times call for drastic measures, but the shift from normal to doing all these things felt a little unrealistic. I mostly accepted it because I want to believe I could play the hero too, but I would have like to have seen a more natural progression from who she was to revolutionary.

Final Thoughts

Again, overall I really enjoyed both books. The story stays interesting, the relationship between Eva and Ryan gave me feels, especially in the first book, and it’s a unique concept that is pretty well executed. I do feel the second book did struggle some in its pacing, as most second books do, so I hope to see a good, tight wrap-up in the third book as everything meets the end of an arc. The first book is a very solid four stars for me, but the second book is a little lower, more like a 3.75. Still, I don’t reward 3.75’s, so they both get 4 stars from me.

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If you’ve read one or both of the books of The Hybrid Chronicles, what are your thoughts? 

Round-Up and Blog/Life Update

Round-Up is my very occasional feature where I share my favorite story and media related articles from the interwebs with you! 

Divergent Trailer

If you’re interested in the Divergent movie, you’ve probably already seen the trailer for it, but if not, enjoy! I have kind of had low expectations for the movie, but the trailer looks pretty good I think! I like Divergent and Insurgent both but I don’t LOVE them the way most people do, so I probably won’t be as picky as some about how exact the story is, so hopefully I will enjoy the movie.

Strong Female Characters

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I tweeted about Sophia McDougall’s piece on why she hates strong female characters as well as Erin Bowman’s agreement with the article and her take on the issue. You should check them both out, but the premise is the question of why can male characters be portrayed in a great many different ways but that female characters are basically either “weak” or strong. I like my characters to be smart, interesting, and at least not a complete push-over, regardless of whether they are male and female. I do believe there are differences between men and women and how they are wired, but none of those differences can constitute why women characters are to be perceived SO differently than male characters. They’re interesting reads, so check them out if you haven’t already!

Blog/Life Update

My September is crazy busy, folks. I have plans for every weekend, work, and a mini-vacation with my husband planned. I haven’t been too good about blogging ahead of time, so if my posting suffers this month, this is why. And same goes with commenting on others’ blogs. But I am quite excited about everything I will be doing this month! And I will certainly try to share some of these things as I go through the month!

I recently had the chance to see Kat Zhang at a local bookstore when she was doing a signing. I heard about it when I went to buy the paperback of What’s Left of Me, since I am reading and discussing it along with some other blogging friends. I also found out that she would be selling the sequel, Once We Were, two weeks early at the event, so that was further motivation to check it out! It was real low-key, and I had the chance to talk with Kat briefly and she signed both of my books. She was nice and I appreciated her taking the time to talk to me. I think I’ll be reading both books this month!

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Oh, and it’s my birthday month, just to put the icing on top of everything else. 🙂

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I may or may not use this picture every time I talk about birthdays from now on…

What’s going on in your world this September, or what media related stories have stood out to you this week? 

Round-Up: Emma Approved, True Dystopia, and More

Round-Up is my very occasional feature where I share my favorite story and media related articles from the interwebs with you! 

Emma Approved

I am super excited about this! The same team that brought The Lizzie Bennet Diaries will soon be tackling Jane Austen’s Emma with Emma Approved! In this version of Emma, the title character is an entrepreneur and, of course, a self-proclaimed match-maker. I watched the first few episodes of Welcome to Sanditon, the Lizzie Bennet spin-off, but it ended up boring me, but I am expecting that Emma Approved will be great! 

Loving YA Books as a Grown-Up Adult

HarperCollins shared a great blog post from a member of the EpicReads team about why, as a grown-up adult, she loves young adult fiction and what she feels it has to offer adults. If you’re a fan of YA (as I know most of my blog readers are), then check it out!

Cress Cover

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Speaking of young adult, have you seen the new cover for the next installment of The Lunar Chronicles, Cress? The long hair! The red ribbon! (It seems red is a theme on these covers… hmmm…) Can’t wait! I haven’t read the first chapter yet, but it’s posted out there on the web. Google for it if you’re less lazy than me! I’ve heard great things about it!

The Abuse and True Meaning of Dystopia

As I mentioned in a recent post, the word dystopia gets tossed around a lot for stories that aren’t truly dystopic. And I understand, I’m guilty of it too, but I do think it’s important to recognize the true meaning of the word. Shanelle at The Tracery of Ink elaborated on the matter further, and I would encourage you to check her post out!

Blogging News

I mentioned in my mini-review of 1984 that I would be elaborating more on the final act of the book, where the main character is tortured, in a future post. Tentatively scheduled for Friday, I will be posting a comparison of the torture scenes in 1984 with the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Chain of Command, Part II. It was only a matter of time before I did a post like this where I compared something in a book I read to Star Trek! But I’ll be bringing in some psychology as well, and yes it will be nerdy, but I am so excited and hope you guys will enjoy reading it.

Book Aquistions

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I finally took advantage of the sale at Epic Reads for the Pivot Point e-book for $1.99, and will be buying What’s Left of Me pretty soon (as in, once it’s out in paperback later this month). I was going to pre-order it on Amazon yesterday but… long story. I’ve heard some good things about Pivot Point, and since parallel universes are on my mind thanks to a certain TV show I have been watching, I thought it was worth checking out. I’m going to be discussing What’s Left of Me with some fellow blogging friends online and am looking forward to reading a book about clones.

And I was excited a few weeks ago to find out I won four autographed books by one of my favorite authors, Jon Acuff! I already had two of the books (though one of them just as an e-book), but not the other two, and plus to have them autographed was exciting! I won them by filling out a survey on his blog, and was hoping to win the grand prize of a ticket to his upcoming conference, but I’m pretty happy with my “consolation prize.”

Looking forward to reading the two books I haven’t read yet! Stuff Christians Like looks absolutely hilarious.

Who else is excited about Emma Approved and Cress? What are your favorite true dystopia reads? What books have you acquired recently?