22 March 2014

Shatter Me

Author: Tahereh Mafi
Series: Shatter Me #1
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Shatter Me was... interesting to say nothing else.  The rather unique style of narration caught my attention from the get go.  Told in the voice of Juliette, we are dropped immediately into the seemingly unstable mind of a young adult locked up in what appears to be a mental hospital.  Her thoughts, while her own, are often conflicting and confused, which puts the readers right in her shoes along with her.

Almost immediately, I began to discover that Shatter Me was going to fall into the romantic interest category for young adult novels, as we are introduced to Adam, the first boy she has seen in ages, as he in unceremoniously tossed into her dark cell with her.  The arrival of Adam triggers a change to Juliette's world, as she tries to figure why someone has been introduced not only to her but into her cell, especially someone - we come to find out - she knows from her pre-lock up days.

Shatter Me I guess can be classified as a dystopian novel, though I treat it along the lines of The Selection.  Mafi introduces teasings of a war being battled on the outside of the walls where Juliette is being detained, but Juliette has been locked up for so long that she, and thus the reader as well, does not have an inkling of an idea what is really going on, apart from the fear that they may use her unique ability as a weapon in the war.

While nothing earth shatteringly original, Shatter Me was still unique(ish) enough that while not the most well developed or written novel, it was still interesting enough to hold my attention.  The Juliette-Adam interaction definitely becomes perhaps the main theme of the novel, which is always a turn off for me, but the concept of the dystopian world and this war brewing on the outside is just interesting enough to get me to read the next installment in the series to see if Mafi delivers the action packed story that Shatter Me lacked.

Fragments

Author: Dan Wells
Series: Partials #2
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

If possible, Partials literally blew my mind.  In a somewhat stagnant genre, Dan Wells set the new bar for young adult fiction with his introduction into the Partials world.

Partials ends with Kira finding the cure to RM and shockingly discovering that she may, in fact, be a partial herself.  Now questioning her entire life, Kira sets off across the continent to search for answers not just about the war and RM, but about herself as well - who she really is, what she really is.

Fragments splits the narration into groups as Kira leaves East Meadow and all but Samm and Heron goodbye, which allows Wells to dive deeper into the characters who held perhaps less significant roles in Partials, mainly Marcus.

Fragments is more of a slow burn compared to Partials flash bang; while some action takes place in the novel for sure, the bulk of the story is set as Kira ventures across the country in search of answers.  This trek allows Dan Wells the opportunity to show the true destruction and devastation that has taken hold of the world, not just in the localized area of the New York City area where Partials took place.  Indeed, when Kira encounters Afa, he is under the impression that he was the last human alive, alone in a desolate, deteriorating city.

It's hard to really dive into Fragments without spoiling many of the revelations its pages reveal, and I'd hate to ruin anything for anyone.  The breadth that Wells spans his novels across is almost staggering, and its such a well developed and detailed world that you just have to go in blind to truly enjoy it.  Since Fragments does not have the fast paced rhythm that Partials carried, I will say that it isn't quite as good the second read through as the first, especially as you start to remember the revelations that Kira finds as she goes since they have already been spoiled on the first read through.  But Fragments still stands as a marvelous addition to the series, even if it falls just a tad bit short of its predecessor.

15 March 2014

Partials

Author: Dan Wells
Series: Partials #1
Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

Ahhh, a fresh breath of air in a sometimes stale young adult genre.  Not only does Wells create a chilling dystopian world, but it has sci-fi to boot, which seems to becoming increasingly more difficult to find these days.

After the plague of RM and the battle with the Partials has left human kind an endangered species, Kira finds herself in a community in New York City, struggling to find a cure to RM that kills every baby born.  As if the loss from the Partials war wasn't enough, the inability to reproduce successfully has left everyone in the world (everyone left in the world, that is) stressed and scrambling to find a cure.  On Long Island, law mandates that all women are forced to reproduce as often as possible, and the dire situation they find themselves in finds the law pushing the age requirement for the law younger and younger.

But heroine Kira is not content with turning into a baby maker and simply facing the inevitability of the RM virus.  Determined to save her best friend's unborn child (as well as all future children), Kira sets up with a small band of decidated friends against the explicit rules of her group in order to confront, capture, and study one of the robotic Partials.  And on this quest, Kira discovers that the truths about RM and the Partials that she has been told are not actually the truths of the situation, giving potential towards a cure - if she can keep her situation stable and all sides at bay.

Partials in a scientific dystopian jammed pack with suspense, action, and even an air of mystery (especially when it comes to the Partials).  Just for good measure, there is even an element of romance as well.

The Partials sequence is an addicting series, and I am almost distraught at the thought of reading the end of Ruins.  I have already read both Partials and Fragments in the past, and found that Partials was just as good through the second time through as it was the first; I can only imagine the entire series is that way as I continue on through Fragments now.

Enders

Author: Lissa Price
Series: Starters #1
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

The world Price created in Starters was original and slightly (or more than slightly) terrifying.  A world where Starters don't control their own minds or bodies; where a corporation can implant Metal into your head and speak into your mind, control your body, give your body to someone else.  Sure, in a dysopian, the money might be nice but the implications of that kind of technology are frightening.

Callie is on a mission to fight that system.  After defeating (somewhat) the Old Man that developed it, she is determined to rid herself of the Old Man's voice as she now finds herself sharing her mind with it at a frequency that he - not she - can solely control.  Not only that, but she finds herself as one of the few that can stand a fighting chance to prevent the Old Man and his company from experimenting on the other Starters to figure out while Callie is the only one of her kind.

While the plot continues to be interesting in Enders, the series continues to suffer from its writing.  The telling of this interesting tale is highly lackluster, which takes almost all of the excitement out of the reading.  Towards the end of the novel, I found myself content to reading/skimming it while I watched television.

Without wanting to give away an spoilers, there is an event about 45% of the way through that is a truly dramatic and terrifying experience.  Any normal person would give pause, suffer from shock, even grieve a little.  Yet Price's narration through Callie's telling breezes past the entire ordeal as if nothing has happened!  This type of oversight made it very difficult to sympathize with the characters or connect with them on any real level, so by the time you reach the twist near the end of the novel, while it may come as a shock it doesn't leave much of an impact.

The story leaves off with the potential of another novel, but while the novelty of Starters left you wanting more, Enders drags the novelty through the mud a bit with its writing to the point where I'm not sure I'll continue the series anymore, what with my reading list as extensive as it is.

13 March 2014

Bitterblue

Author: Kristin Cashore
Series: Graceling Realm #3
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

Bitterblue reintroduces us to the characters from Graceling that I so sorely missed in Fire.  Eight years into the future, we now focus on (if you could not tell from the name of the novel) Queen Bitterblue as she still tries to adjust to running a kingdom still under the fog of the whispers and lies of her father.

My biggest gripe with Fire was that it took a diversion from the kingdoms Cashore developed in Graceling, as well as the characters.  And while Bitterblue is set in Monsea and we see the reappearance of Bitterblue, Po, Katsa, and the others, Cashore still spends a good majority of the time developing the new characters in the novel, while the characters from Graceling as set on the back burner.

Of the three novels, I still prefer the plot of Graceling the best.  While the plot of Bitterblue is interesting, the air of mystery (at least the second time through) is not quite as interesting or satisfying as Graceling was.  I daresay that, perhaps, Graceling actually gets better with each reading, while Fire and Bitterblue are stuck leaving the same impression as through the first read.

While Saf and Teddy are interesting characters, I would them a little one/two dimensional, same as Thiel and the other members of Bitterblue's castle.  The back story into the happenings while Leck ruled were interesting, and the way that Cashore interwined Fire with Graceling and Bitterblue into this novel was compelling as well.  The end of the novel left me satisfied, true, but I just could not help felling that the mystery/plot of the novel could have been better.

The Graceling Realm series is a classic example of where the first novel set the bar so high that it was difficult for the follow ups to compete.  Yet, I reaffirm that Cashore doesn't suffer from a sophomore or junior slump; Bitterblue just doesn't quite live up to the wonderful new realm that Cashore created in Graceling.  The fact that she developed the series as a group of companion novels instead of sequels, however, seems like the only choice, as each novel serves as a stand alone novel that can be enjoyed with diving too deep into the seven kingdoms.

11 March 2014

The Lightning Thief

Author: Rick Riordan
Series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

I had seen the Percy Jackson novels in stories and around Goodreads for a while before I finally got around to reading The Lightning Thief.  In fact, I had already seen the first two movie adaptations of the novels and gotten the entire boxed set of the series for Christmas before diving into this book.  A bit risky, perhaps, but I am always at a loss to figure out what I want for Christmas, and I had friends with similar reading tastes that recommended the series to me, so I went for it.

I have to say, while the series is obviously geared towards a younger audience than myself (our main hero, Percy, is twelve years old) the The Lightning Thief novel was more engaging for people of my age than the movie was, which made reading the novel a breeze (the writing level geared to preteens helped as well).  While of course highly a fantasy novel (after all, young Percy is a half god/half human son of one of the Olympian gods), Riordan's narrative is interesting enough to not alienate the readers, and I found myself able to suspend reality long enough to enjoy the novel.

I could see a lot of parallels between the Percy Jackson and the Harry Potter series.  We have Percy, who - while mysterious things have occasional happened to him before - has never known about his heritage.  When he finds out, he ends up going to a special school/camp for other children like himself to learn about his heritage and to protect himself from those who would want to harm him.  Here, his ends up forming a trio with Annabeth and Grover.  While not quite as novel as the Harry Potter series, I can definitely see why Riordan has had as much success with the series as he has had.  And while at my age The Lightning Thief isn't a stay up all night under the covers with a reading lamp type of novel, it is definitely an interesting novel and a few twists and surprises to keep reader interest throughout the novel, all the way to the conclusion and for the anticipation of the next novel.  While I am currently pounding through a few other YA series, putting Percy Jackson effectively on the back burner, it is a series I will definitely continue.  I'm even interested in trying out Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series once I have completely the Percy Jackson saga.

10 March 2014

Fire

Author: Kristin Cashore
Series: Graceling Realm #2
Rating: 4 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

The one issue I found myself having with the Graceling Realm series my first read through was that, while the novels existed in the same world developed my Cashore, it was difficult to call either Fire or Bitterblue a sequel to Graceling.  Granted, Cashore never claims for Fire to be a sequel, instead billing the novel as a companion novel to Graceling.  But to count them all in the same series pushed the limit for me.

In Fire, we see a complete diversion from the characters Cashore developed in Graceling that I came to love.  Leck is the only character that makes a crossover appearance between the two novels and while he serves an important role, he does not get a whole lot of face time (which is just as well, since we learned to hate his guts in the first novel).

Unable to fall back on the core characters that she created in Graceling, Cashore had to develop an entire new plot line and set of characters for Fire.  She even went as far as to develop an entire new kingdom with weird monster creatures that I still don't understand 100%.  While the character deviation was tough enough to swallow, the introduction of this new kingdom with these bizarre monsters made it even more difficult.

Now don't get me wrong; I enjoyed Fire.  It just did not seem to live up to the standard that Cashore set in Graceling.  After giving us the adventures of Katsa and Po, Fire's adventure left more to be desired.  The story line in Fire wasn't as rich, and while the character development was fine, I never connected as much with this new set of characters as I did with the Graceling gang.  Even as two standalone novels, I cannot say that I would have enjoyed Fire as much as Graceling.  I won't go as far as to say that Fire suffered from a sophomore slump plague, as it was still a very enjoyable read, but I simply can't say that Cashore carried all of her momentum from Graceling into Fire.

Nevertheless, the entire series is worth buying and reading multiple times.  And I believe Cashore might have seen some of the same issues as I had with Fire, as the next installment of Bitterblue welcomes back our original cast of characters, even though even if it is still difficult to call it a sequel to Graceling.

08 March 2014

Life As We Knew It

Author: Susan Beth Pfeffer
Series: The Last Survivors #1
Rating: 1.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Bury

Ugh.  The funny thing about reading this novel is that I swear I have read it before, back in the day closer to its original release.  It obviously did not leave much of an impression on my then because I could not remember much except maybe that something happened where the moon ended up closer to the earth (jogged in my memory by the cover art).

I should have taken that as a hint to not attempt a second read through, but since I didn't remember, I went for it again.  When I first read this novel, I was a teenager and probably a bit moody and yes - I will admit it - annoying at times.  Perhaps that is why I did not remember how obnoxious our narrator, Miranda is.  For a high schooler, she acts more like someone her younger brother Jonny's age (which is ironic, as she points out at one point during the novel how mature he is being and how immature she is herself).

My biggest beef with this novel isn't the fact that Miranda is whiny and spends her entire time writing into her journal/diary complaining about her situation, even though she is lucky to have a mother who cares so much for her children that she sacrifices her own needs to care for her children's.  It isn't the fact that the entire novel actually feels like it was, indeed, written by a preteenager, especially when Miranda and her mother or her old brother get into fights/arguments and the adults in the novel spit such childish remarks that I actually laugh aloud at the absurdity.  It isn't event the fact that though my geology and physics is a bit rusty, but I'm pretty sure the "science" aspect of the events as they unfold are completely ludicrous (after all, if the moon is knocked out of orbit towards the planet, wouldn't the moon's gravitational pull on tides and volcanoes be the lest of the worries, as with the moon out of orbit and closer to the earth, the earth's gravitational pull on the moon would keep bringing it closer and closer until they collided?).

No, my biggest beef with this novel is that it is BORING.  Literally nothing happens apart from the meteor crashing into the moon and the moon moving closer to the earth.  Granted, that seems like a huge event with major fallout (which does sort of happen) but Miranda's narration is so focused on the stupid, trivial matters in her dull life that she mentions these events with but a passing glance, instead focusing on absolutely nothing at all except her constant whining.

This novel may have held my attention when I was a young preteen with a bit of angst, but come on.  Reading this novel now (which I could only stomach about 50% of before finally giving up) makes me want to roll my eyes and toss my Kindle aside.

07 March 2014

Prince Caspian

Author: C.S. Lewis
Series: Chronicles of Narnia #4
Rating: 2.5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

Much like the other novels in this series, Prince Caspian has a hard time keeping up with the ages.  While it might have been the prime of children's literature when it was written (back in the day), reading it now - especially as an older "youth" - makes me wonder how this series ever reached classic status in the first place.  As was the case with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I find myself content with simply watching the movies as opposed to reading the novels.

Indeed, reading this rather short novel still makes me wonder how they seemed to develop a movie that drags on for a significant amount of time.  I will admit, but the last 1/2 to 1/3 of the novel, I begun just skimming over the text while I watched Catching Fire, so I hardly absorbed any of it at all.  Again, like Lion, Witch & Wardrobe, hardly anything actually happens in this novel.  The four siblings find themselves returned to Narnia, much into the future (after they have apparently grown up into adults and ruled for many years and then left and still had time for the kingdom to decay) when Prince Caspian calls upon them with the magic horn.  Then they spend the novel talking to woodland creatures and drawfs (same as Caspian does), making their way across Narnia to find Caspian.

Towards the end, I do believe they find Caspian (again, I will admit I was skim reading by this point) and I believe an epic battle ensues which takes about three pages in the novel and about thirty minutes in the movie.  Blah blah blah blah blah.

I find it hard forcing myself to trudge through this complete series.  At least with Lion, Witch... and Caspian, we have the four kings/queens that I grew up with in the movies, which is about the novels' only redeeming quality.  Add the books to the series that don't even feature this characters (instead just have the talking lion that, let's face it, I couldn't care much less about) and you have a series that I am glad my parents never wasted time reading to me when I was young(er).

06 March 2014

United We Spy

Author: Ally Carter
Series: Gallagher Girls #6
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Verdict: Borrow

The thrilling conclusion to the New York Time best-selling series?  I am going to go out on a limb and say that's a stretch.  I wikied the book about halfway through the novel - after casually flicking to the back and reading the acknowledgements and realizing it sounded like the series was finished - and discovered that this story, indeed, is the conclusion to the series.  Thrilling, however, is a bit of a hyperbole.

For a series about teenage spies, it left a lot to be desired in the area of suspense and mystery.  Sure, the writing style Carter implements is fun and breezy, but it takes away from almost all excitement the stories could potentially muster.

Here we have young Cam, finally with a boyfriend while trying to fight off the secret society of the Circle and still trying to find enough time to attend spy school so that she can graduate.  And you know what?  There was hardly any suspense in the novel at all, where the synopsis seems like it should be boiling over with it.  The big climatic finish, which is supposed to be a bit of a shock/surprise, hardly registered a blip on my radar.  And the conclusion didn't leave me feeling satisfied or outraged; I simply breezed through it (much like the narrative) without any kind of reaction at all.

While I read Carter's novels for their rather unique narrative and style, I have to admit that it is perhaps not the most suited style for the genre of books she is writing.  Sure, it can add humor and make for a fun light read, but it takes away almost all of the excitement for a young spy series and even for young criminals in Heist Society.  At least with Heist Society, I feel more connected with the characters.  So while the Gallagher Girl series makes for an okay first read, it isn't a series I'll be adding to my collection or borrowing from the library to read again.  I feel that after six novels, while a lot happened, when you finish it it hardly feels like you've read anything at all.  Much like the narrative, I kind of simply breezed through the series without taking anything away from it.

03 March 2014

Graceling

Author: Kristin Cashore
Series: Graceling Realm #1
Rating: 5 / 5 stars
Verdict: Buy

I was a bit worried that I had built this novel up in my mind to be better than it actually was, but the second read through did not disappoint.  As I have recently begun watching Game of Thrones, this series popped into my head as I had it labeled in my mind as the less sex/boobies obsessed fantasy novel similar to Game of Thrones (and without all the ridiculous, unnecessary drawn out dialogue).

One of the things I love most about this series is that we have a young, independent, and all around BA female lead character in Katsa (similar to Katniss from Hunger Games, and I don't just make the comparison because their names happen to be similar).  Sure, there is still the element of romance in the novel with the dashing young Prince Po, but Katsa's action and the novel in general do not revolve around a relationship for Katsa.  The romance is more of a side aspect of the novel (similar to the Katniss-Peeta-Gale relationship(s) in Hunger Games).

I love a good fantasy novel, and Graceling certainly fits the bill.  Katsa is a pawn to the elite, sent as a punisher thanks to her unique skills in fighting and even killing.  But Katsa isn't happy being used in such a manner, and when opportunity arises to escape from this world, you can hardly blame the gal for trying.  And while this opens up the opportunity of a relationship with Po, the story really focuses on the kidnapping of his grandfather.  Katsa, yearning to escape from her life, agrees to go with Po as he searches the seven realms to solve the mystery of who kidnapped his grandfather and, more importantly, why.  While the struggle in this series between the seven kingdom isn't for the king's throne, it is for power and control, and the dynamic and the unique kingdoms that Cashore creates are breathtaking.

The novel holds your attention all the way to the very end, and leaves you wanting more.  Onto Fire!