31 December 2013

Champion

Author: Marie Lu
Series: Legend #3
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

While Legend is not one of my favorite young adult series, it is certainly a series I will add to my buy list to read again.  The characters are engaging, even if it is difficult to believe they are only sixteen years of age.  When reading the novels, I feel like I am watching a CW show, where they have twenty somethings playing high schoolers.  I know I mentioned this is my Prodigy review, and yes, perhaps in a different culture raised in war times it is something that could happen.  I just have a hard time believing it.

Lu spends a little bit of time delving into the backstory of the tension between the Republic and the Colonies in Champion, but I still felt it was a little underdeveloped.  In addition, as we explore this world that isn’t too far off (only 150 years in the future or so), it started to feel a little more towards sci fi and not just a dystopian/war series.  My main point here is the country of Antarctica.  The technology that keeps the city warm is only just hinted out as a huge dome they passed through easily as they flew in, and the buildings hundreds of stories tall, as well as the technology used to make the citizens live in a video game more or less seemed more sci fi than realizable.  That being said, I wish we could have spent more time in Antarctica with June and Anden, as this sci fi world Lu hinted at was actually much more fascinating than the Colonies or the Republic.

While Day’s health situation plays a major role in this novel, his relationship with June isn’t too smothering in the way that teen relationships can be in young adult series.  Granted, we see touches to two love triangles in Champion – Day/June/Tess and Day/June/Anden – but they aren’t too overwhelming or obnoxious.  And while the relationship between June and Day is still a huge subplot of the novel, it isn’t annoying until towards the very end.

I will say, even though I was disappointed with how Lu chose to end the novel by focusing on Day and June instead of the conflict between the Colonies and the Republic, up until this point it was very action packed.  I dare even say it was a page turner and I had a hard time putting it down as Anden, June, Day and the Patriots struggled against the clock to come up with one last hail Mary attempt to prevent a surrender to the Colonies.  Again, it was difficult to believe how young most of the characters were – even the young Anden – but I got over it… for the most part.

The name of the novel is something I don’t really get.  Prodigy and Legend both alluded to June/Day.  And on the back cover of the Champion novel, it alludes that one of them will be the Champion… which does not fit the context of the novel really at all.  If anything, the champion would arise between the conflict between the Colonies and the Republic.  But seeing as how that pans out, the word champion really doesn’t suit that part of the novel as well either.


As for the ending of the novel, considering how focused this novels were on June and Day over the dystopian, I wasn’t disappointed with it – apart from the sudden departure from the conflict on the streets.  Indeed, I actually appreciated the ending, especially with the fast forward in time to ten years down the road, where I could finally see the characters fitting their ages.  I do wish that the series had been a little more focused on the war between the Colonies and the Republic and a little less centered on the relationship between Day and June, but all and all it was an engaging series that while perhaps didn’t surpass the hype as quoted on the front of Legend, but may have lived up to it.

Only the Good Spy Young

Author: Ally Carter
Series: Gallagher Girls #4
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

We are finally getting somewhere, plotwise(ish).  This novel picks up pretty much where the last one left off, with Cam in the UK with Bex and her family, getting up to some spy mischief with MI6.  And if I ever had any inkling of a doubt that the plots in this series were completely absurd, the beginning of this novel finally confirmed it 110%.  But Carter’s writing style is still witty enough and fun enough for a light lazy day read, and with a running plot now crossing through the different novels, it is definitely more interesting than the first two novels in the series.

While we still have a hint of boy craze centered around Zach, it is finally definitely a subplot and not a central theme in this novel.  This novel focuses on why the Circle is after Cam, as well as introducing the question or whether or not Mr. Solomon is a good guy or a bad guy, something I never thought I would even consider, as – like Cam and gang – I never thought for a second that Mr. Solomon could have been a double agent.  But now… well, while my subconscious held true throughout the novel that there was no way he broke bad, my mind began to wonder as the plot continued to unfold.  And even Zach, the resident bad boy who Cam can’t seem to shake, starts to show shades of grey.


While the absurdness of the plots and the styles used for the prose don’t warrant suspense for a plot that could be potentially suspenseful in a different light, the series is still staying interesting enough to read.  And while I doubt I would ever buy this series to reread over and over, it’s still a fun read, especially for the young adult genre.  With a still highly unresolved plot at the end of the novel, Carter continues to drag me along with Cam and crew into the next of the series.

28 December 2013

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover

Author: Ally Carter
Series: Gallagher Girls #3
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

After the first two novels in this series, I wasn’t so sure if I wanted to keep reading or not.  While I liked the idea of a whole school of little Sydney Bristow’s in training, the first two novels seemed to offer very little in the way of  actual spy action.  Instead, it was some light training but mostly teenage girl fluff as Cam found herself with a crush on a different boy in each of the two novels.  So when this one started out, I was pleased to see lots of action and while mentions of the previous boys existed, they didn’t make an appearance.

That is, at least, until you get past page 100… then the series appears to revert back to its roots as Cam runs into an unexpected guy from her past again, and all attention turns, it seems, to boys, boys, boys once more.  Granted, the plot of the story at least doesn’t revolve completely around a guy in this novel, but he still plays an important role.  When he isn’t popping up unexpectedly, Cam seems to almost always be expecting him to pop up.


Once you get past the boy madness that hits around page 100, I think my biggest beef with this novel is the ending.  Sure, it has a plot twist that you can kind of guess as it is logical, but it is still unexpected when Carter throws it at you.  But the problem with the ending is that it leaves a lot open ended.  The entire plot of who/why someone makes the kidnapping attempt at the beginning of the novel is left completely open ended and unresolved.  So while I still am not all that impressed with this series, especially after loving the Heist Society novels so much, now I feel as if I have to read the next novel in the series, just to see if they resolve the plot of this one or not.  And if not, then I will be truly mad.

Prodigy

Author: Marie Lu
Series: Legend #2
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

The story of Day and June continues as they run away from Los Angeles to seek shelter in Vegas.  As part of their escape and in return for aid to help Day’s injured knee, the duo agrees to assist the Patriot rebels, giving them the one thing they have desired for so long and been unable to obtain – Day.  While they are reunited with Tess, Day and June soon find themselves split up as June is sent to get close to her previous acquaintance Anden, and Day is left to follow behind with the second group as part of their plan to assassinate the Elector in an attempt to start a Republic wide rebellion.

But when June finds herself alone and close to the new Elector, the plan begins to unravel as she starts to question the motives of the Republic and whether the Elector is really who he seems and who they believe him to be.  And with June off alone with the Elector while the rebels watch on, the romantic angle between her and Day becomes a central theme in the novel as jealousy start to flare and while Tess starts to suggest that perhaps she is no longer happy with just playing the little sister role to Day, adding in the elements towards one or even two love triangles.


While the romantic elements of the novel began to annoy me, the plot was still interesting enough.  Prodigy didn’t hold my attention from the get go like Legend did, and it was more of a character development novel for an extended period towards the middle.  But as the assassination plot begins to unfold, the story line picks up pace again, and then before you know it you are barrel rolling towards the end.  The ending itself is a little too lovey dovey centered for me, and doesn’t end on a crazy climatic cliffhanger like you’ve come to expect from trilogies, but the writing and plot are still interesting enough that I am prepared to go full steam ahead into Champion to see how it all ends and what will become of the Republic and the Colonies.  Unlike a lot of the novels I read, I find the plot of this series much more interesting than the characters, while still managing to enjoy the story overall.

24 December 2013

Starters

Author: Lissa Price
Series: Starters #1
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

An interesting and also slightly terrifying sci-fi plot.  When human life expectancy increases well past 150 years, the elders in the community, known as Enders, aim to relive their youth by controlling the bodies of youngsters in the population, known at Starters.  Promised wealth beyond what anyone could imagine, youth are drawn into the program with the promise of only three sessions of being a Starter, or a host body for an Elder to control (it reminded me somewhat of Avatar).

The heroine of our story, Callie, is lured into the program even after her initial interaction with the company rubbed her the wrong way in a last, desperate attempt to care for her young brother.  Things start off okay, and she even meets a handsome stranger to introduce a bit of the obligatory young adult love triangle element.  But once she reaches her last assignment as a Starter, a full month of being a host (which she will have no recollection of when the time is over), things start to go array.

While not as chilling as the theme could led it to be, I did like first person narrative in this case.  As Callie interacts with the Ender using her body, the time gaps from the rental lead to an interesting aid in the development of the plot and help add suspense.  Like Callie, readers are in the dark of all of the events that transpire during the rental period, and we only find out what has happened as Callie puts the pieces together.

This novel is one that boasts “Fans of The Hunger Games will love it” and if you know anything about my reading style, you know I hate it when people try to compare novels to THG, especially when – like this novel – you see little similarities between the two.  While nothing like THG, Starters is still an interesting novel.  I started reading it around the same time as I started Legend, and while Legend sucked me in much more quickly to the point where I set Starters aside until I plowed through Legend, it was interesting enough that I finished Starters before I even open Prodigy to continue down the Legend trilogy.


Starters ends with not so much a cliffhanger per se, but with an interesting twist and a key decision for Callie to make that sets it up for the next (final?) book of the series, Enders.  While Starters is not necessarily a novel I would read again, it certainly held my attention and was interesting and unique enough to make me want to read Enders, which I am currently on the waiting list for at my local library.

23 December 2013

Legend

Author: Marie Lu
Series: Legend #1
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

It boasts on the cover that it deserves all the hype the book has received, and while I really haven't heard much - or any - of said hype, this book has been popping up all over my Goodreads account and I see it all the time on Amazon and at bookstores.  Now that the series has concluded, I have decided to give it a go where I can binge all three in the trilogy if I so desire.

Now that I have finished the first novel, I believe I do, in fact, desire to do just that.  It isn't that Legend in an action packed, full throttle suspense novel.  Almost the opposite, as I close the dust jacket of the novel and set it aside, I realize just how little action the novel had.  Granted, there is some suspense towards the end with the situation Day finds himself in, but I have little to any doubt of how the situation will resolve itself, so I didn't exactly feel like I was on the edge of my seat.

The characters are a little hard to relate to as well, as they seem awfully young for their characters, their lifestyles and their experience (for example, June's crazy abilities of observation and skill and Day's seemingly high number of experiences with the ladies at the ripe old age of fifteen).  But I let this slide, as perhaps in a society wrought with plague and death and murder children grow up and mature and live life to the fullest far quicker than they do in our sheltered society.

I didn't find anything special or unique in Lu's style of narration, and nothing about Legend screamed out that this series will become an instant favorite and must have addition to my collection.  But as I read through the pages, I found it harder and harder to put the book down to pay attention to television or another book or even to polite conversation with the people around me.  Somehow, this young girl and this young boy that appear very early on to be fated to be star crossed lovers seem to draw me in with their ordinary dialogue and point of view.  And while, looking back on the novel, it doesn't appear as if a whole lot happened, Lu has certainly put together the premises for the potential of a very exciting follow up.

20 December 2013

The Fault in Our Stars

Author: John Green
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I was skeptical to start reading this novel as I had heard rumors it was a tear jerker.  Indeed, I borrowed the ebook from the library twice and never got around to reading it before I finally got on the waitlist for the hardcover from the library and finally caved and read it.  My timing was not the best, as I just had a grandfather who passed from cancer and the feelings are still a little raw after a one year battle of treatments after surgery.

This novel could best be described as a young adult romance novel between two star crossed lovers.  I think the target age range and thus the style of writing is what really prevented me from fully engaging with these characters.  Unlike a novel similar to My Sister's Keeper, this novel is written for teenagers, and thus is not as descriptive or detailed as its adult targeted counterparts.  As such, at times I had a hard time believing in these characters and never felt they were fully developed.  Their lives were solely about their ailments and how it affected them, and Green did little to explore else in their lives which I think hindered the novel.

In addition, the way the novel plays out is rather predictable.  While I couldn't guess 100% how it would end, I knew with certainty it was either going to play out one of two ways by the time Green introduced both Hazel and Gus, and I think that hindered my ability to bond with the characters as well.  I know with a disease like cancer, it almost has to end in one way or another, but when you can guess how it ends right at the beginning, it lessens the tragedy you feel the characters go through as you read along.

With that being said, it still brought tears to my eyes for the last 40 pages or so.  And I like the eloquence and bouts of sophistication Gus brings.  He is, hands down, my favorite of the characters as he reminds me a lot of my grandfather.

While nothing Earth shattering and completely heartbreaking like My Sister's Keeper, I think The Fault in Our Stars in a fresh young adult novel that touches on tragedy and young love that does not have the unrealistic fairy tale endings that most of the novels in its genre today spew.  So while John Green didn't blow my socks off with this first novel I've read by him, I am certain to explore the rest of his literature out there.

16 December 2013

Ascend

Author: Amanda Hocking
Series: Trylle #3
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

The final book in the Trylle trilogy, I have a bit of mix feelings about Ascend.  On one hand, Wendy is not as annoying as she was at the beginning of the series when we are first introduced to her in Switched.  It is not necessarily that she has grown or matured in any way, but more of the fact that she is not stumbling around between her human family and her magical life anymore.  In addition, the Finn issue has effectively been resolved, so there is no back and forth and back and forth of her pining over him and being depressed when he chooses his duty to his kingdom over her.

The story lines progress well in the finale, apart from the climax and the resolution with her father.  This part I found a huge letdown.  Hocking builds the need to solve the conflict with the Vittra starting almost in Switched, but definitely from the early stages of Torn.  The resolution to the issue of defeating her father is so swift and over so quickly that it is almost a complete letdown after the entire Ascend novel has built to the moment.  For an analogy, imagine a huge balloon you have been inflating for two hours, and then someone comes over with a needle and bursts it right as you are ready to tie it off.  That is how I felt with the end of the novel.

Besides the ending for the fight with the Vittra, however, I did enjoy the novel.  I still don't feel that I ever really connected with Wendy's character - or any of them for that matter - but it was a fun, light quick read.  Loki continued to dazzle me, and I cannot put into words why I love his character so much, but he really helps turn the series around and make it credible.  Perhaps because he is the one character in the entire series that doesn't seem so one dimensional.

After I read Hocking's Watersong trilogy, I was so disappointed with the writing and the storytelling that I decided to reread this series (that I had purchased after reading the series twice previously) for fear that I had built it up in my head to be much better than it actually is.  And while she is no master storyteller or literary genius (and never will be), this series is a fun young adult series for even the casual reader to enjoy for a weekend.  It is not deep or impactful by any means, but it is a series you can enjoy over again.

15 December 2013

The Elite

Author: Kiera Cass
Series: The Selection #2
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

The first time I read this book, back in April, I could barely give this book a 3 star rating.  I felt the plot was slow, not a lot happen, and that Mer was increasingly annoying with her wishy washy self and her inability to decide between Maxon and Aspen.  The whole "plot" seemed like a melting pot of mess.  To tell the truth, the first read through felt like self inflicted torture.

This second time around, I fared a little better.  Perhaps it was because I read it almost back to back with The Selection, so the story line continued quickly on between the two.  Maybe it was because the jumbled plot lines seemed to fall a little more into place the second time around, when I already knew somewhat what to expect and where it was going.  Or maybe I just paid a little more (or a little less) attention this time around.

I will say, Mer is still annoying in her constant back and forth between Aspen and Maxon to the point where I highly suspect she is massively bipolar.  One minute, she is ready to accept a marriage proposal from Maxon should he ask.  She is ready to be a princess and rule the kingdom with him.  Then an almost imaginary switch seems to flick in her mind (caused by a situation or action that does not seem that huge in my mind) and she has cast aside Maxon completely and cannot believe she ever found herself attracted to him in the first place.  She runs back to Aspen, who of course accepts her with open arms, and they are back to making out in secret in dark rooms of the castle as if they are back home and nothing has changed.  And then another medium impact action or situation occurs, and America finds herself once again with weak knees and swooning for Maxon again, and tosses Aspen aside without another thought.  That it pretty much the entire novel, back and forth between the two like a pinball.

I cannot tell if she is just young and naive or super shallow, but all of her actions says to me that perhaps she doesn't love either of them, or she would not be so easily able to just jump back and forth between the two.  My love/hate relationship with America aside, however, I found myself enjoying this book a little more than the first time I read it, though it still didn't have the Bachelor/Bachelorette feel of The Selection that I enjoyed so much the first time, even though I despise watching reality TV.

With her mind seemingly made up and the end and a fixed goal in mind, hopefully The One will deliver in the areas where The Elite no doubt crumbled and that America will stay on her "warpath" of determination, instead of flopping around like a fish out of water again.  And hopefully some kind of plot will finally develop from these seemingly ridiculous attacks on the castle from both the north and the south, and that this plot line won't just disappear into the ether like a side character on The West Wing.

14 December 2013

Horde

Author: Ann Aguirre
Series: Razorland #3
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Man, what a rather lengthy finale to the trilogy.  While Outpost was not exactly a power read, it was still a much quicker trip through than Horde.  This one definitely took me a while with its 400 plus pages combined with a lack of action and suspense.  Much of the novel includes walking around from town to town to town and back to town to try to gather up enough soldiers to fight in a group against the large zombie horde (hence, the name).  Thus, the novel is a series on walks and talks, with just a hint of action sprinkled here and there in between which made it a hard book to pick up and binge through.

After finishing the ending, I would have liked it better if it had been written in the third person and the epilogue had been dropped.  Then it would have at least had an eloquence to tie in very nicely with one of the mentioned plot lines of the Razorland trilogy.  As it was, the series was not bad, but it is not something I would invest the time in again to read all the way through.  It took me long enough to get through it the first time.  I have discovered I have a difficult time finding a good, solid zombie series to really invest myself in.  The Forest of Hands and Teeth was good, but other than that the state of literature for young adults has really washed up dry in this genre for me.  Using that fact alone, I would recommend reading through this series once if you are a zombie enthusiast for lack of better literature out there (at least that I have found).  As a stand alone without comparing it to its peers, however, Horde and the Razorland series as a whole fell short for me.  It never really grabbed my full attention and held the suspense.  With its length, it pattered off and lost me at times, and I had a hard time finishing the last novel.

07 December 2013

Torn

Author: Amanda Hocking
Series: Trylle #2
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

While Switched started off rocky, Torn doesn't have as much of that problem.  Granted, it starts with a pouting Wendy that runs away from the Trylle when she learns that Finn will no longer be watching over her, leaving her little reason to stay when she has been missing Matt and her aunt so much.  So she runs away from her responsibilities and her new world to seek comfort from what she knows.  On this respect, I scoff at Wendy - she seems like an annoying, whiny, self absorbed girl who doesn't take other people's thoughts and feelings into consideration and doesn't think through the consequences of her actions.

While the beginning doesn't start off rocky, it does start off a bit slow and it is still a bit of a jumble with the back and forth between the mundane world and the magical one.  But one character in this novel makes up for almost all the other downfalls - Loki.  I can't put my finger on why I like Loki so much.  Perhaps because he is a bit of an enigma, perhaps because he is one of the few characters that has more than one dimension.  We don't really know where his true loyalties lie, which helps add some suspense and intrigue to the series.  His interaction with Wendy and the others is always entertaining as well.

Amanda Hocking is still far from a knock your socks off writer, but she writes in a contemporary, quick to read style that makes for a light beach or weekend in bed reading.  And while a lot of the dialogue is lacking and some is a bit eye rolling worthy, it is still a good guilty indulgence that definitely seems to get better as the series continues on.

05 December 2013

The Selection

Author: Kiera Cass
Series: The Selection #1
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

On the surface, this novel is just another fluffy, romantic young adult novel.  Indeed, it isn't much more than this below the surface either.  I can't, for some reason, place my finger on just why I enjoy this novel as much as I do.  Perhaps because every girl, young or old, since has dreams of being a princess.  And princes always have their charm; Maxon is no exception to that rule.  He is young and naive.  He tries to do the right thing when the king doesn't listen to his views as much as he should.  He is shy and has never really fallen in love, except perhaps with young America Singer, who is none the wiser.

Now, when we get to America Singer, my love starts to falter.  For one thing, her name is ridiculous.  Indeed, most of the names in this novel are absurd and laughable.  She is a bit flaky and wishy washy, and seems to have little to no appreciation for the opportunities she is so lucky to have.  Instead, she focuses all of her attention and energy on boys and love.  First, she is all about Aspen (another crazy, stupid name).  Then, she starts to perhaps have feelings for Maxon.  And then it becomes very clear the series will be a love triangle between the two.  While America has a few shining moments, such as her actions towards her help/maids and the way she treats the other girls selected, she is in no way a role model.  She doesn't seem to have much self respect and independence; her life seems to resolve solely around the man of the hour, which is something I could never approve of.

I am not a fan of the Bachelor, or reality television in general, but for some reason that setting in this book sucked me in, which helps make up for the lack of development of the dystopian background setting.  The dystopian going on in the background is a bit of a plot pusher, and is only mentioned here and dropped there and then picked back up just when you had forgotten it.  Perhaps it becomes more of an actual plot piece further on down the series, but it's a bit of a jumble in this first novel in the series.

Cass certainly didn't blow me away in this debut, and I hardly doubt she will ever become a classic writer to embed herself in the genre, but it is a fun, light, quick, addictive read, more of a guilty pleasure than anything else.

01 December 2013

The Horse and His Boy

Author: C.S. Lewis
Series: The Chronicles of Narnia #3
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

While The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was at least entertaining because it introduced us to the beloved characters of Susan, Peter, Edmund, and Lucy, The Horse and His Boy follows instead in the footsteps of the Magician's Nephew.  Lewis introduces readers to a lot of new characters all at once (a few of which are talking horses) and it is hard to connect to them because I associate Narnia with the kings and queens.  And while they do make a brief appearance in this novel, it is hardly enough to get excited about.  And while Aslan is present for a bit as well, I have never really cared much about Aslan.  A talking lion is a little hard to sympathize with.

This book does pick up in the end with some excitement, but I was already so confused by the end that it didn't have much impact on me.  I read dutifully through the entire novel, but most of it went in through the eyes and out through the ears, completely bypassing my memory.  By the time we got to the battle at the end, I wasn't even sure why they were fighting or who the other side even was, which toned down the excitement.

I will say, I'm glad I never finished this series as a kid as I don't think I would have enjoyed it much and then I never would have been interested in seeing the movies.  Prince Caspian is next in the series, however, so I am holding out hope.  Still not quite sure why these books have become classics though, as they are not something that would seem to stick with you throughout your childhood or life and don't really seem to withstand the test of time either (apart from the movies, which were ok but not great by any means or standards).