Cipher - Cindi Madsen

Monday, July 22, 2013

"One Gift. One Curse. One Purpose."

Cipher - Cindi Madsen
Summer Davis sees deaths before they happen. She attempts to live a normal life by focusing on the dance team and her quarterback boyfriend. But then the way-too-cheery Angel of Death shows up and tells her she’s a Cipher—a person chosen to help people who are going to die resolve problems with their loved ones. Ashlyn Moore, one of Summer’s classmates, is going to die, and she needs Summer’s help before that happens.

It’s nearly impossible to get through to Ashlyn, who surrounds herself with chess nerds and geeks and makes it clear she doesn’t want to be friends. Desperate to complete her Cipher task before it’s too late, Summer turns to Troy, the guy who’s always been there for her and one of the few people she can trust. With his help, she makes progress. In fact, the closer she gets to Ashlyn and her friends, the more she feels like she’s finally found where she belongs. 

As the clock starts running down on Ashlyn’s life, Summer decides to change her objective. She’s going to save her new friend before it’s too late—even if it means messing with fate.

Summary and Picture from Cindi Madsen,

My thoughts:

What is it with Cindi Madsen that she wrote stories that are in-line with my taste? Though this was the first YA book I had read from her, I loved her Accidentally in Love Series #1 Falling For Her Fiancé and #2 Act Like You Love Me. She had captured me again. I was captivated in a different approach but with the same effect: I ended up falling in love with her book.

Cipher, being the first book in the series, showed so much potential. It managed to show what and where the story revolved. It was about a Cipher, what a Cipher must do and what the Cipher must look forward to. Aside from that, it was genuine— the story about friendship and romance was not forced; and that there was a connection between the characters (and also a heartfelt connection with a reader). It lived up to my set expectations and it left me looking forward for the next book.

The cover, summary and title:
Aside from the story, the marvelous plot and spontaneous feel of events; the cover was something to be stared at. It was just so gorgeous! The dark blue color of the background, the wind-effect, the girl that had this light-and-sorrow-feel emanating from her, and the font used; it was all emitting the paranormal vibe. The cover gave justice to the book, and from the summary you will somehow understand it, the girl itself was a portrayal of light—the mission to help resolve a relationship and sorrow—because whatever happens, death will occur to that particular person she was in need to help. The summary showed a parallel connection with the story, while not giving away much of what will happen.
Lastly, the title, about this one, let me tell you something:
The first thing I did before I read the story was to open my dictionary and look for the meaning of:
(noun) The symbol 0 denoting the absence of a magnitude or quantity: zero, naught
(noun) A method of secret writing
(verb) To compute arithmetically
*Decipher – decode

But, do not be lured, it is not any of the above concepts.
A Cipher, is a shortened version of a decipher, but it means (according to the book and I quote):
“You get a person assigned to you, and then you help them before it’s too late.”

Did that trigger your curiosity? I love angel-themed novels, movies, TV series and it was sort of like that but in a different way. Cipher was a good and beautiful book that must be read by paranormal lovers.

The story (if the summary was not enough):
Summer, the heroine, has this gift (or curse) of seeing how people die before it happens. At first she acted nonchalant about it but one event had changed everything—her mother’s death. Months past and she already transferred to another state, where she somehow has a perfect life: she became a popular girl and a cheerleader, has a perfect best friend (Kendall) and has a quarterback boyfriend (Cody).
But someone unexpectedly showed up and changed her life. She was told why she was seeing deaths and that she has a mission. That she is a Cipher and she needs to help one Ashlyn Moore before Ashlyn dies. And as a Cipher, she needed to help fix the relationship with Ashlyn and Ashlyn’s Mother.
She needed to be close with The Misfits (the reject group), it was easy to get along with the others but Ashlyn was a tough cookie. While she was trying to get closer to Ashlyn; her perfect life was drifting apart: Cody was trying to get in her pants and Kendall was getting irritated by her associating with The Misfits; then she made a choice– she broke up with Cody and preferred to join The Misfits. The rug was snatched under Summer’s feet, the pressure to make Ashlyn and her mother connect was difficult. Ashlyn had some fats in her and Ashlyn’s mother, a fitness professional (though Ashlyn’s mother was pressuring her with a good reason); and the mother-daughter barely talked.
Summer’s life was now different, both good and bad. She might have her bad days from her former so-called friends (but dance was her passion so she suck everything up); but good because she found real friends with The Misfits—gained true friends, a best friend (Ashlyn), and love with Troy. She succeeded but she was faced with the truth: Whatever she does, the inevitable (death) will happen –she can live with guilt, if she failed; or feel overwhelmed, if she was able to help.

Longer rantings:
“To help her resolve some things before she dies.”

Cipher is a Young Adult Paranormal book that really dealt on teens. And what made me enthralled to it, aside from the cover, was its purity in delivering the story and the transition of showing the ‘normal’ teen to face her ‘gift’. At the start of the book, it portrayed how normal the heroine was then what one ‘vision/instinct’ had changed everything.

Before I regard Cipher, there was a book that kept on popping in my head: ‘Before I Fall’ by Lauren Oliver. I would not deny that I like these types of books—something that deals with the reality, of dilemmas, of death (or substance abuse) along the lines of teenagers (and troubled teens). It made you look into a teens’ mind and what you can do to help.
So to those who read ‘Before I Fall’:
Remember countless times the same day happened for the heroine to figure out what to do?
How she found out things bits by bits?
How she reached out to know the person, that person’s story?
Mostly, how to fix things and save that person (even if it was the heroine who died) in the end?
It was not just making a way for things to happen the way it should happen. The story dwelt on fixing things before the right time comes. Just like Cipher, the thing was: whatever happens, the person will still face death but along the way he/she must fix something before it was too late and have peace with death.

The first chapter made an impact by showing what Summer had and what she must do. It enlightened me, as the story progressed and there were no mediocre events that made the story lose its focus. As what I had written above, there was this unexpected person who told Summer, the heroine, what she was needed to do. This person was Gabriella or what Summer called her at first: Cotton Candy– the angel of death. It was so girly and unexpected for an angel of death (blame the stereotypical reaper image); I did not know what to make-up for what was happening. My turbo mind was tuned up and I cannot help but ask myself: What if you’re in Summer’s  situation and a fairy-godmother-looking (pink bubbly dress; Marilyn Monroe hair; and oh yeah, glitters and sparkles before disappearing) was telling you that you need to help someone to resolve their friendship before someone dies?  Also, that gift really was a curse in itself too— it was passed through generations: through the eldest daughter. Not really an ideal job, it was very tedious and responsible.
The gift, which is also a nightmare flashes when a physical encounter—like arms brushing, occurs.
To see how someone dies.
To have an urge to warn them but must not.
And to think of yourself as crazy? One tough job.

Just like Summer, I was dumbfounded at the start. I mean, a huge “WHAT” was primarily etched on my forehead. And honestly, I was thinking: “Is this book some sort of guardian angel thingy?” Well, I’ll make it clear: a huge NO. It was different and Ciphers were different from Guardian Angels. They, the Ciphers, were not to intervene and were only supposed to help resolve relationship.
They (Ciphers)were to help resolve a relationship but not to save. Which was, I think, a little confusing on Summer’s part; or just because she was stubborn? I would say that I got infuriated with both Summer and Gabriella. Gabriella knew something but she was not much of help, which Summer really needed. But then, Summer kept on delaying and there was the time that she was trying to save Ash—which was a task not for her. Though I understood Summer, because her life got so confusing after knowing she was a Cipher and she has her own life: a cheerleader, a best friend, a daughter and a girlfriend; all was getting hard to her, put in her mother’s death (which on she kept on blaming herself), her Dad dating someone, the pressure to swipe her V-card to her boyfriend and a somehow faux best friend. Yet, whatever she was dealing with, she must do this task.
After all, you can’t mess up with fate. If you alter it, things get tricky or sometimes don’t end well, but the bottom line: it will happen.

The story was spontaneous. It was not confusing and that there was a natural flow in the story; it was like a jigsaw puzzle put in together: it fits and had created a story shifting to normalcy into the paranormal, then back. It also dealt with a teenagers’ life— losing your virginity or not; choosing between friends; feeling pressured; widowed/separated/single parents; being strong or succumbing fear; and of course, having fun. It was easy to understand. Their stance, the social strata, just everything was a normal high school setting. It was simple to grasp, imagine an American-based TV series or movies or teenage books, it was how it worked there. There were the shallow popular girls and the disadvantaged-nerds. The nerds were cool and very tight with each other. It was not just being smart; that was though already but then you’ll see how these nerds were, like normal people, they have: talents, skills, just with a higher IQ.

I loved how the story dealt with friendship, both the real and faux ones. The friendship with Kendall (Summer’s best friend) was bordering shallow-fake and real—she did show an authentic interest in helping Summer before but then her jealousy and somehow Summer’s ignoring her made her the typical backstabbing bitch friend. There was the typical jock and virginity issues that I will gladly say, Summer fought to not puddle on Cody’s feet (even if she was having guilty thoughts). Then the real friends, The Misfits (or the reject group), Summer found real friends and a boyfriend in them—the friends you can count on and will cheer you up, even if you had a bad day.

As the story progressed, I liked Summer and I understood her better, aside from my head-nodding to her Oreos (double-stuffed) and milk fandom; she was a dancer, music-lover, and not a shallow person (like the stereotypical cheerleader)—who also made her own choice. Then there was the moment when it showed how her mother died, it was morbid. And countless times, she blamed herself, succumbing to what ifs and had a depression before she resided in California. Then there was this need to focus on getting her mission to be a success, it was very difficult because the relationship between Ashlyn and Pamela (Ashlyn’s mother) was somehow hinder by Ashlyn’s friendship with Summer. They had become best friends and it was so entertaining to read!

Along the way, aside from friendship, as simmering love story was surfacing. Another entertaining and a much needed flutters in the stomach feeling was being brewed. Is it wrong to love Troy when he said Sunshine, the very first time? I mean, a hot Cali boy + smiling voice (metaphorically, if not blatantly written). Le best friend then he was the one Summer wanted to call that particular night Cody ditched her! Troy was like a golden boy, he was loved and he was friends with anyone. He was a character that I was looking forward to, every time (freely blame the girl in me). Also, I wouldn’t deny the connection or chemistry between him and Summer, because it was really there. Then there was their kisses which were natural, not forced and not making it have much emphasis but you do know it was intense and have meaning even if it was brief. Troy was a real friend; he was there all the time and he didn’t make Summer feel any less, even if Summer decided to vent out three quarters of her secret.

Then there was this dreadful event that I wanted to get away from: Ashlyn. Because Summer and Ashlyn were getting so far along, then of course there was this inevitable. When things get too good to be true; you just know something bad will happen. Like Summer, I knew it was going to happen very very soon; but like her, I was being optimistic; that maybe it would not be as immediate as that or that maybe her visions/instincts were somehow incorrect. I kept on pretending that maybe there will be a twist that everything will be all right. But then, I just know. Sooner or later, more on later, it will happen.

Bear with me, I feel saddened but also happy when I remember Ashlyn and Summer’s friendship.
I cried, I laughed. Mostly, I used my reserved pent-up emotions.
I would be a hypocrite if I say the story was mediocre. Honestly it was not, it strikes pure genuine emotion in a reader. Everything, as I said awhile ago, was spontaneous. Well, yes it was planned: to meet Ashlyn (to help resolve the barely-there relationship with Ashlyn’s mother, Pamela) but their (Ashlyn and Summer’s) friendship was real.
I cried most was when I was reading it… Towards the end, I was in front of a box of pizza (if you read the book, you will understand me): call me crazy but I mopped out, yes, the ugly cry. I was thankful no one saw me but really, I felt my heart constrict. It was tough. I had the memories flowing before me of what happened.
I felt bad for Pamela, because it was just heartbreaking, not even a whole 24 hours to enjoy the company of her daughter. Pamela was in deep grief and regret but then felt somewhat comforted. As much as I grieved with Pamela, I felt in despair for Summer, and for myself too. I felt that chest-tightening feeling when she remembered how Ashlyn’s face would lit up and uttered words. I felt like I saw in Summer’s shoes (metaphorically, of course), feeling whatever she was feeling but at the same time, sensing my own sorrow and feeling this strong connection with them: I felt like I lost Ashlyn too. Honestly, I also missed Ashlyn. That was how I felt connected with the story, like I was part of it.
Ash and Summer’s bond was something worth envying. It was true friendship and I agree what they jokingly-described themselves: they were awesome. Their friendship blossomed into something so wonderful, that as a reader, I enjoyed very much; that I had the urge to call my friends and have some get-together, watch some movies, have a slumber party; just doing nothing but feel sated.

This book was all I could ask for, a fantasy and a reality. A refreshing read that was heart-wrenching that made me felt hollow yet full. It was emotional but enjoyable.

For me, this was a merge of original concept and a link with John Green’s ‘Looking for Alaska’ and ‘TheFault In Our Stars’ and Lauren Oliver’s ‘Before I Fall’. Well, mostly the moments. I had written awhile ago its comparison with Before I Fall; as regards with John Green: the events there was very high school, just having fun and the moment they were looking for Alaska and how they cope with it was similar to what happened in Cipher. The emotions I felt during The Fault in Our Stars came crashing through, the event in Cipher was raw, then the eulogy also made me remember Gus; I was just a major wreck afterwards.

This was a story that will make you show how emotions run wild. How teenagers’ life do revolve; Cindi Madsen knows what she was writing, she had shown a real life story in high school; it might be set in a paranormal genre but when you think of it—it does happen. Our Ciphers maybe our family, friends or a nuisance who wants to interfere; but does knows how to help resolve our relationship with others (sans the visions). It must be taken into consideration how the story was plotted— it was remarkable: the family, friends, faux friends, tragedy, romance, just about everything or life itself; and the natural flow of the story were written in perfect cognizance to a YA reader.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5.

P.S. Gotta love the part where Summer sensed the incoming angel of death and shocked the living daylights out of Gabriella *snickers*

For Cindi Madsen:
Just like a customer who had eaten a very sumptuous meal from a luxury restaurant, please regard my compliments to the chef. As what I had written above, Cindi Madsen knows how to write (not to mention, bias on her subject included) and she knows what she is writing. An author who knows how to shift her writing to the suitable readers of this book: the teens. As a teen reader, I did felt the connection with her books (even the Accidentally in Love Series) – the characters, the story itself, and how free-flowing the story was. She is a natural writer.
So without further ado:
Compliments to the author for a very well-written YA Paranormal Romance!

For Book 2:
Since there was a sneak peek, based from that snippet: I just hope Troy and Summer would not have a major drama in their relationship. Death and major romance drama are not something I am looking forward to. Well let’s see, I am a sucker for romance and of course what Summer’s mission will be now. I just hope Liam would not be a third-wheel since he will be getting close to Summer because I don’t know what metaphorical-hair-gripping-and-invisible-furniture-throwing I would be doing by then. *sighs* Honestly, I just want to read the second book now. As much Troy and Summer will make me over the moon; a detainee that will not live through his parole and must make amends with his son is something I am dreading to find out. I just hope Summer can overlook her past and be successful (I know she will).

Oh and I hope I can see more Marcie. I do not know why, but I just wanted to know her. She has too much on her shoulder yet she was such a loving friend.

Author Bio:
Cindi Madsen sits at her computer every chance she gets, plotting revising, and falling in love with her characters. Sometimes it makes her a crazy person. Without it, she’d be even crazier. She has way too many shoes, but can always find a reason to buy a new pretty pair, especially if they’re sparkly, colorful, or super tall. She loves music, dancing, and wishes summer lasted all year long. She lives in Colorado (where summer is most definitely NOT all year long) with her husband and three children. She is the YA author of DEMONS OF THE SUN & ALL THE BROKEN PIECES, and the adult author of FALLING FOR HER FIANCE, ACT LIKE YOU LOVE ME and CINDERELLA SCREWED ME OVER.

Author Links:

Website  |  Blog  |  Goodreads  |  Twitter  |  Facebook

I had received an eARC from Cindi Madsen herself, in exchange for an honest review.

-     Jassie

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