26 February 2014

World War Z

Author: Max Brooks
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I read this novel at the recommendation of a work colleague of mine, but I did not expect much from it.  The trailer for the movie looked absolutely ridiculous, and it was only when I had the opportunity to watch the movie for free after it was released on DVD did I even watch the movie.  While nothing special, I will admit the movie was better than what I had expected for it, so when my friend mentioned I should give the novel a try I took his word on it.

It takes less than 15 pages to realize that the movie and the novel share almost no similarities except for title and the basic theme of zombies.  The novel, told through several interviews transcribed onto paper, is hardly a great writing style to translate to film, which is probably why the similarities between the two are hard to see apart from some of the same events taking place in both.  To be honest, the book was much more fascinating than the movie; if I had read the novel before seeing the movie, I doubt I would have enjoyed the movie at all.

While I typically prefer to have my novel written in traditional prose, I have to say that Brooks managed to pull off the novel with a set of transcribed interviews.  The fact that the novel spans several years, covering many different important events of the war told from several perspectives of several unique people made it that much more fascinating.  I found myself texting my colleague throughout my read through to compare our favorite interviews/stories and discuss which events we liked the most (his favorite was the female Air Force pilot that went down; mine was either the astronaut on the ISS or the girl who traveled as far north into Canada as possible with her mother and father).  For a world war, the novel almost had to be told in this style, especially since the events spanned such a long time frame.  The fact that we got to see how different countries and different people dealt with the issue of the rising dead was what made the novel so fascinating.

I am usually someone who needs instant gratification when it comes to the endings of novels, but with this novel, the ending almost has to be left open ended.  The war with the zombies, while perhaps resolved, it far from over, thus it only makes sense to have the ending of the novel open ended as well.

While probably not a novel I would read again, it is definitely a novel worth reading once.

Before I Fall

Author: Lauren Oliver
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

While Lauren Oliver might not make my list of top young adult authors I'm into, I have to admit that her writing intrigues me.  Take the Delirium series for example.  I never really got hooked by the main character, but the premise of the series was unique and somewhat entertaining and suspenseful, though the ending was God awful and made me regret reading the entire series to start.  And yet... I felt that she deserved another chance, perhaps with a one off novel instead of a trilogy.  Maybe she would fair better what that type of time frame for a plot.

And while I did enjoy Before I Fall, it followed the same tendencies that I saw in the Delirium series.  For one, the main character is - as she is accused of several times throughout the novel - a bitch.  Her and her friends are the "popular" kids, and thus believe they walk on water and hate on others without even understanding why or without really caring about the consequences.

And yet, at the same time, you try to ignore the fact that Sam is a bitch because, let's face it, is it an interesting premise.  Much like she admits herself, Sam is stuck in an afterlife edition of Groundhog Day, where she wakes up every morning to relive the day she died.  And for several times in the beginning there, she makes the same mistakes over and over, because she doesn't realize that perhaps being a bitch is what caused her to die in the first place (just maybe).  Sam even poses an interesting question to the reader - just because she wasn't the nicest person in the world, does that mean she deserved to die?  Fair enough, young lady.  Though the fact that she let her highly intoxicated friend get behind the wheel (and, furthermore, was stupid enough to get in the car with a drunk driver) seems to be natural selection just weeding off the dumb.

Anywho, enough of my hate on the dumb and mean.  After all, it isn't Sam's fault that I wasn't exactly in with the popular crowd growing up, and while I have no idea what it feels like to be the "Psycho" of a school, I related much more with the semi-antagonist of the novel than the protagonist.

The plot was just interesting enough to keep me reading even with the subpair characters.  The ending, as with Requiem, was a bit of a let down, but at least with Before I Fall, I can see the reasoning behind the ending, unlike Requiem which was just a three novel build up to a blank ending similar to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  And while Sam couldn't try her life around while she was still alive, it was a bit comforting to see that she finally began to see some of the errors in her ways, even if it was too late to do anything about her behavior while she was alive.

24 February 2014

Eve

Author: Anna Carey
Series: Eve #1
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I bought this novel on a whim off the bargain shelf at the bookstore as I had seen some good reviews across Amazon/Goodreads.  I have to say, with the hype I had built up for myself going into this novel (especially since I purchased a copy before I had even read it), I was rather disappointed.

The novel starts out a bit sloppy, and things start happening at a very quick pace.  The introduction to the character and setting is quick, and the setting changes almost immediately off the bat as Eve finds out that the whole foundation of truths she has built her world around is just a lie.  The school for training, as she has been told from the start, is none other than a baby breeding ground.  And upon finding this truth, Eve strikes out on her own to seek sanctuary from become just a baby maker in the fabled land of Califia.

It becomes apparent almost right off the bat that this novel is going to focus on a young adult romance, although it isn't the typical love triangle I've grown assumed to for the genre.  After being brainwashed for years that all men are dangerous, Eve finds herself nonetheless attracted to the young Caleb, and thus the plot of the novel shifts to focus mainly on this point, with the fact that the king of the country is hell bent on finding Eve and bringing her to him specifically for reasons we do not know taking a backseat.

While I really could not care much less about Eve and Caleb's relationship, I am a sucker for a dystopian series, and the world that Carey creates is just interesting enough for me to continue on reading until the end of the book.  And while the novel may appear to end on a cliffhanger in respect to the relationship between Eve and Caleb, it kind of/sort of ends on a cliffhanger on the plot that I actually care about as well.  And since I purchased the first novel in the series already, I feel obligated to continue the series - at least into the second novel - to see if it can hold my attention or - even better - improve as the story unfolds.

Nothing super impressive or unique so far, but perhaps more interesting to the more casual reading type.

19 February 2014

Looking for Alaska

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

Well hot dang, John Green sure does know how to write a book to bum you out.  My first introduction to him was via The Fault in Our Stars (about a young terminal girl), and I thought that one was hard to swallow.  This story, however, passes down almost as rough.  Looking For Alaska, however, is such a beautifully written novel that isn't hard not to like even with its faults.

Enter Pudge, a somewhat awkward, gawky high schooler who decides to ship himself off to boarding school in search of the Great Perhaps.  After spending most of his time by himself without many friends, Pudge decides maybe it's time to shake things up a bit and see what else there is out there for life to offer him.

I dare say he certainly got his money's worth.  Pudge ends up rooming with the Colonel (who I absolutely love) and becomes friends with the seemingly moody/bipolar Alaska.  The two of them, along with Takumi and Lara, definitely pull him out of his shell.

It's hard to review this book without giving too much away, and I definitely don't want to spoil any part of this novel.  The novel carries a countdown in days throughout the novel, and I spent the first novel of the novel plunging through it just trying to figure out what the countdown was all about.  I wish I had taken the time to read through the beginning a little more carefully, as the elements presented through the introduction to the characters (such as Alaska's love of reading, the Colonel's obsession with memorizing facts and numbers, and Pudge's desire to learn the last words of people) are woven so beautifully into the novel that it is almost staggering.  I almost wanted to read it again as soon as I finished just to find the symmetry in the novel and how well these character traits fit into the plot.

Again, I don't want to say much more, because to do so would have to dive deeper into the plot, and the plot is something you really ought to go into this novel completely blind about to enjoy it to its full potential.  While there were a few things about this novel I didn't enjoy completely, overall it was a fantastic read.

Defy

Author: Sara B. Larson
Series: Defy #1
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I requested a galley copy of this novel from the publisher because I am a sucker for fantasy novels and novels featuring a strong female main character.  This novel seemed to offer both, so it felt like a no brainer.  But while it wasn't a bad novel, it did not meet the expectations I was hoping for.  All the elements were there for a brilliant introduction to a new series - an interesting main character with a secret to hide from everyone, a tragedy that befalls her early, and a struggle for a kingdom/a war on the horizon.  For those who live for the ever popular young adult love triangle, this story features that as well.  Yet Larson could not seem to weave these elements in such a way to present a fascinating novel, and instead delivered a story more along the lines of a Stephanie Meyer novel.

The development of the plot and the writing style of the novel seemed to fall short, and these lacking elements - along with Alexa's more prominent attention to the boys in the story instead of the larger issue at stake - were what kept me from really getting into the book.  While interesting enough to hold my attention long enough to finish the story, I did not have that unrelenting urge to keep reading that I love from a novel.  And while all the makings for a great novel were present, it just seemed to fall short.  The dialogue and progression through the novel were a bit stiff, and while there were a few surprises in the novel, all but one I had already guessed were going to happen.  This novel just seemed to lack the wow factor.

I will say I would rather spend my time reading a novel on the lines of the Graceling Realm series than on this Defy series, but at the same time I won't tell people they should not read this.  I will leave this novel to the fans of Twilight, as it is more up their alley.

15 February 2014

We Were Liars

Author: E. Lockhart
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher, and I must say it exceeded my expectations.  Most books I get advanced reading copies of are not very good, which every once in a while makes me stop to wonder if it is even worth doing the reviews for the mediocre to just plain bad books.  But then I get to a book like We Were Liars, and I remember what all the excitement is about.

The novel does not particularly start off strong, but there is a subtle uniqueness to the narration through Cadence's voice as she tries to piece together the happenings of one very important summer with her friends and family.  While it takes a while to warm up to Cadence (at first she seems a bit like a whiny teenager whose entire summers seem to revolve around - yes you guessed it - a boy).  But as it becomes clear that something disturbing happened that summer, you start to sympathize with her while you try to put the puzzle pieces together faster than she does.

I will admit, the ending is not at all what I expected, which make it interesting right to the end while at the same time disappointed me a bit that I wasn't even close to guessing the truth.

As for the other plot elements besides the mystery of the main event of that summer, the dynamics of Cadence's family were also interesting to read.  Her mother and two aunts are all fighting for control of an estate that they hope to inherit when their father dies, and their father likes to hold the trump card to bait them all on and try to control them.  On the one hand, her entire family bothers me because none of them seem to appreciate what they have and how well off they are.  They all take advantage of the fact that they were born wealthy and never had to work a single day in their lives.  On the other hand, growing up with a mother that was a middle child between two sisters, I can kind of see how this scenario comes to be.  While the story is a work of fiction, I can't help but feel that in families this is how it tends to work with wealthy families sometimes, and I dare say I almost felt a little pity for them.

While We Were Liars did not keep me up through all hours of the night making me contemplate the great questions of life, it was certainly a novel that sucks you in towards the late beginning/early middle and holds your attention with an air of mystery to solve.  It's a book I would even consider buying to add to my collection.

13 February 2014

The Opal Deception

Author: Eoin Colfer
Series: Artemis Fowl #4
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

Artemis Fowl is back, though his last adventure with Holly & crew has left him with no recollections of any fairy business.  Never to fear, however, as Artemis's and Bulter's mind wipes don't last forever (and how could you ever have expected to, when the whole series revolves around Artemis's interactions and doings with the People.

The young Fowl, while no longer trying to steal fairy gold, has not completely washed himself clean of all crime, and the novel starts out as he - with Bulter's aid, of course - attempts to steal the coveted The Fairy Tale (the most appropriate name of a painting for him to steal).  And yet, as you make your way through the novel, you can't help but see that perhaps Artemis is finally, indeed, starting to mature.  He does reason, after all, that stealing from a thief isn't actually stealing, is it?

The real action gets underway, however, when the nasty old Opal sets her sights on revenge against all who have wronged her.  And when she manages to escape from her vegetable state, Holly and Co. seek the help of non-other than their good enemy/friend Artemis.

While the class Colfer witty dialogue with plenty of chuckles is still evident in the novel, I did not find this novel as exciting as the others.  And the departure of a beloved character made it even more difficult to swallow at times.  I see The Opal Deception almost as a transitioning novel from the series, where Artemis decides that inside of trying to always find a way to one up the People, he learns how to truly work with them against a common enemy.  And while he's perhaps still most closely linked to the beloved Diggums (who is not exactly the best role model around), you have to think that the next novel is going to reveal the new nature of Artemis Fowl and how he wants to be remembered.

Cress

Author: Marissa Meyer
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #3
Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

Almost everything I thought Scarlet lacked, Cress delivered.  I don't want to get into spoilers, so I will try to be generic and not go into any details (I know there are already more than enough spoilers out there as it is).

When I saw the cover, I was instantly curious as to how Meyer was going to weave yet another classic fairy-tale princess into the mix.  As soon as I read the jacket cover summary, however, I was instantly impressed.  Not only did Meyer managed to seamlessly add Cress to the mix, but she did it in such a way that the addition was only natural.  In fact, I realized immediately that we had already met Cress (however briefly).

The one character I missed the most in Scarlet made a return in Cress and resurfaced as just an important person, if not carrying an even more vital role this time around.  Scarlet, however, lost quite a bit of face time which was a bit of a disappointment.  Still rather early on, she becomes almost a non factor as the group gets split up yet again.  And while the addition of a new character was seamless with Cress thrown into the mix, it added a whole new layer of characters to follow as the characters split into smaller groups.  And, least we forget, we still had Emperor Kai on Earth to contend with as he tried to deal with the devilish Levana.

While Scarlet by no means suffered from a sophomore slump, I definitely thought Meyer ramped up her game again with Cress.  While I still can't quite compare it to Cinder (perhaps since Cinder was so original as the beginning of the series and such a breath of fresh air compared to the other novels/series I have been reading lately), it definitely proves that Meyer is holding strong.  The introduction of the slightly (or perhaps more than slightly) crazy Winter towards the end of Cress sets up for an interesting premise for the fourth (and what I have to presume is the final) installment of the series.

We can only hope the release date for the final novel is early 2015, as it is going to be hard to wait for an entire year (at the least!) to find out what happens next.


08 February 2014

Scarlet

Author: Marissa Meyer
Series: Lunar Chronicles
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

Scarlet may not be quite as good as Cinder was, but Meyer certainly does not suffer from a sophomore slump.  In Scarlet, we are introduced to a bunch of new characters, and our face time with Cinder is severely decreased.  Her "scenes" so to say with Kai are also now non-existent, which is perhaps one of the most disappointing aspects of the novel.  To be fair though, after the way Cinder ended, I did not hold out much hope for a Cinder/Kai reunion anytime soon, though you have to hope that Cinderella will eventually end up with her prince.

While Cinder is a reference to Cinderella, Scarlet continues the fractured fairy tale base theme with the introduction of Red Riding Hood.  And who would Red Riding Hood be without her grandmother or the wolf?  Meyer elegantly introduces the new characters in a way that becomes obvious down the road in order to blend with the current ongoing plot lines seamlessly.   And just as you hope Cinder ends up with the prince, you find yourself hoping that perhaps - somehow, someway - that Scarlet ends up with the Wolf.  An odd change of events, but what is the point of a fractured fairy tale if you can't help but for a simple twist of fate.  The way Meyer toys with our emotions as we try to figure out the Wolf's motives is beautifully written, and while you know the wolf in Red Riding Hood is the villian, the elements of Red Riding Hood are weaved into Scarlet in such a way that you cannot help but wonder if Wolf is truly the same bad wolf (Bad Wolf, bwhahaha) from the fairy tale.

I also enjoyed the addition of "Captain" Thorne as a new character.  While we wouldn't want for him to replace Kai in Cinder's heart as a love interest, he is a great companion and friend to Cinder.  In addition, their often witty dialogue and their actions around each other in general serve as great comic relief in the stressful and serious situations that face Cinder throughout the novel.  While Cinder takes a back seat in this novel to Scarlet, she still plays the most fundamental role to the series possible, and while I missed seeing her in the limelight (which is why I did not enjoy Scarlet as much as I did Cinder) for the majority of the novel, we do see her relationship with Thorne subtly evolve throughout the novel.

While Kai's screen time is also downgraded in Scarlet, he still serves a purpose to the underlaying plots, and I love to watch the internal struggle regarding his feelings towards Cinder and the hurt he feels about her deception, all while he is trying to transform from the young prince to the newly appointed Emperor.  I do hope he regains more of an important role again in Cress.

The one character I surprisingly missed in Scarlet was the Doctor.  While Cinder has thoughts of heading to Africa to join the doctor, she gets sidetracked with other plans.  I can only hope that the Doctor resurfaces with at least a minor role later on in the series, as he serves as a wonderful substitute father figure to Cinder.  She certainly wouldn't be where she is now without his help.

07 February 2014

Cinder

Author: Marissa Meyer
Series: Lunar Chronicles #1
Rating: 4.5/5 stars rating
Verdict: Buy

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this novel until I just finished reading it again.  Not quite a fractured fairy tale (which I am always a sucker for), Meyer twists elements of Cinderella into this otherwise unique novel of a cyborg mechanic.  Though her name is Cinder, and though she has a wicked stepmother and two stepsisters, I wouldn't classify both of her stepsisters as wicked; in fact, Cinder is even fond of her younger stepsister.

There is, of course, the handsome prince, in this case Prince Kai.  And there is even a ball.

But this story goes much deeper than Cinderella.  Enter the evil queen of Luna, who uses her glamour to hide her hideous looks but not her hideous intents.  With a goal to rule not just Luna but the entirety of the Commonwealth as well, the queen sets her sights on the young Prince Kai as her ticket to power.  As if this issue isn't a strain enough, let's go ahead and factor in the plague as well, which has been impacting the Commonwealth for over a decade now.  And as if these two aren't enough, we also add the mystery of Cinder's past, which she doesn't remember anything of prior to the hover accident that resulted in her being a cyborg and being taken into her stepmother's home.

Cinder is instantly likable and I bonded with her quickly.  I even found myself sympathizing with the android Iko, who may be programmed to have emotions but certainly isn't capable of feelings.

Unique and intriguing, Cinder sucks you in immediately from the start and holds your attention the entire way through.  This book is a classic read under the covers by flashlight into the wee hours of the morning novel.  Even the second time through (which, I will admit I sped read through certain parts) held my interest and sucked me in just as much as the first read through.  I read this book in less than 24 hours, and quickly grabbed Scarlet to read again, since I have Cress waiting on the bookshelf to read once I finish my refresher course through the first two.

06 February 2014

Life After Theft

Author: Aprilynne Pike
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

From the cover, you would never guess that this novel is told in the first person POV of a high school male.  Not too far into the novel, though, you can quickly rather that the girl on the cover is the dead klepto girl who, it appears, can only be seen by new to the school Jeff, our narrator.

This novel took a while for me to get into, as I found it difficult to bond with really any of the characters in the novel.  But Jeff started to grow on me as the story progressed, as did the dynamic between Kimberlee, Sera, and Sera's brother.  We can tell there is definitely a lot of love lost between Kimberlee and Sera and her brother, but while pieces of the puzzle are laid out throughout the novel, the biggest revelation is at the end.

While the novel is a bit frivolous and romantically centered on Jeff's feelings towards Sera, this little mystery that carries throughout the novel is what kept me intrigued.  And I like how while Kimberlee finally found some revelation at the end, she didn't change a complete 180, which would have been a little too much fantasy in a world where we are already dealing with a ghost.

While not as intriguing or creative as Pike's Wings series (of which I am in the process of buying completely in hardback), it still had its moments, enough to make it worth a read even though I wouldn't suggest it as a book to add to your collection.

02 February 2014

Out of Sight, Out of Time

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

I have to admit, while still not up to par with my binge/cannot stop reading/cannot set down books, this series is definitely getting better as it continues.  The adventures of Cammie and gang, while becoming more and more far-fetched, are for that very reason becoming more exciting and enjoyable to read.

In a tale truly befitting of ultra spy girl Sydney Bristow, Cammie wakes up with no memory of the past several months and is fighting to pull the pieces together while all the time still trying to figure out why the Circle is so interested in her (and why they aren't necessarily interested in keeping her alive anymore).

The same elements from the previous novels still exist - the young love and potential love triangle, the unique Carter writing style, the same quips and fun from Cammie that you so lovingly endure.  And while the plot is perhaps not the most well thought out and can seem awfully coincidental and thrown together at times, it is still a fun, light guilty pleasure of a read that gets further into the spy games world and more out of the classroom/the theory behind the spy games world where the series first started out.

01 February 2014

My Fair Godmother

Author: Janette Rallison
Series: My Fair Godmother #1
Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

I am a sucker for fractured fairy tales, and that bias holds true for this novel.  I first found interest in this novel while surfing through Goodreads and coming along the cover.  Let's face it - a young fairy godmother with pink hair?  Color me intrigued.  I requested a copy from the library almost immediately.

For the novel itself, I practically laughed aloud at the internal letters that are used to help direct the story along and help explain a bit of a jump in the story line at one point.  And you have to give props to a "fair" godmother who would rather be shopping than helping her human extra credit project find true love/happiness.

The beginning of the novel, where Savannah jumps from one classic fairy tale to another before plopping into a semi-new fairy tale world, was a little hard to get engaged with.  The story seemed to flounder at these points and I found it difficult to find the will to keep on reading.  But when Savannah uses up her third wish (still thinking it should count as her first) and has to enlist the help of a leprechaun to plop back into yet another fairy tale world, then the story really begins to pick up.

Well you won't walk away with any true, real life lessons, the subtext of these lessons definitely exist in the novel.  And the characters are not as one dimensional as I have grown accustomed to in this day and age of young adult.  Indeed, My Fair Godmother is a fun, light read that can be easily enjoyed, though I would push it more towards chick lit than gender neutral for sure.

Realizing it is the first in a series, I am very tempted to continue on down the rabbit hole with the follow up novel.