Winter by Marissa Meyer
Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.
Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.
Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?
This book was hard to finish. Not because it was bad or anything, but because I didn't want this series to end. From the first page of Cinder, Marissa Meyer delivered lovable characters, fast-paced action, political intrigue, and beautiful storytelling, and she didn't stop until the last page of Winter. I think The Lunar Chronicles are the only YA series that has never let me down. I loved every sentence of every book, and I am so sad to be finished with it.
That said, Meyer absolutely nailed the ending. Bittersweet and wonderfully thought out, Winter is the perfect conclusion to this amazing series. The elements of Snow White are incorporated with the subtle genius that Meyer brought to her sci-fi/dystopian/political thriller/romance interpretations of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel.
The leading ladies of The Lunar Chronicles are the best part of the series. I could rant for hours about the importance of a series based around six fully realized female characters and filled with a beautifully diverse cast of characters, but for now I'm just going to thank Marissa Meyer.
Thank you for this exciting, heart-wrenching, stay-up-reading-until-two-am-good series.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...
Speculative fiction is about recognizing uncomfortable truths. Authors take everyday things that may only be slightly disturbing to us and introduce a society where they've become the law. We want to believe that societies like Gilead couldn't exist, and it's the author's job to convince us, to make us believe.
Set just after the initial rise of Gilead, when there are still people who remember "the time before," The Handmaid's Tale sets itself apart from most other spec-fic/dystopian books. Atwood builds the world of Gilead slowly; Offred doesn't so much explain it as mention in passing its various workings. Some parts of the rise of Gilead are less plausible than others, but taken as a whole, the world-building is convincing. The result is a complete, unsettling portrait of a society where all actions are policed, women are only valuable as domestic servants and childbearers, and no one is truly free.
Offred's narration is brutally honest and expressive. She relates daily life as a Handmaid personally but without complaining; her flashbacks to the time before are filled with longing. Readers will ache for Offred - whose real name we don't even know. I read this book with a mix of fury, shock, and frantic hope. The plot is driven mainly by Offred and her reactions to life in Gilead, and it's the strong connection readers will find with her that keeps the book interesting.
Through Offred and Gilead, Atwood explores the impact of misogyny and religious extremism (as well as a few other important ideas) by taking them to excess. Regardless of whether or not you find the idea of a Gilead-like society far-fetched (as some do), this is an important read. While it's unlikely the government will strip women of their names and right to property, there are dozens of organizations and politicians lobbying against women's rights bills, and women are not yet equal to men socially, politically, and economically - in 2014. This is the uncomfortable truth Atwood wants us to recognize when reading The Handmaid's Tale.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within the world's digital confines - puzzles that are based on the creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win - and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.
The extent of my video gaming prowess is winning de Blob 2 last year and making painfully slow progress through Portal - so I guess you could say I'm not exactly a master gamer. Luckily, you don't have to be an expert Xbox player to enjoy Ready Player One, but you do have to be something of a geek.
The OASIS is basically nerd heaven, where fictional words are recreated and you can play as an elf, Vulcan, wizard, etc. The online world is incredibly detailed and comes with a backstory more complete than half the fictional universes out there. Occasionally that background information gets a little lengthy, but it was pretty neat to see that Cline put so much time and effort into developing Wade's world, both real and virtual. Both of them were fairly realistic for all the high-tech computer wizardry and mass video game addiction.
Halliday's Easter egg hunt, the focus of the book, was just as well-thought out as its backstory. It was exciting, but really only when Wade was about to get a key, crack the clue, or run in with the Sixers (the bad guys). In between clues, Cline's writing became really technical and boring, outlining minutiae of Wade's life and computer history. I learned more about the 1980s from Ready Player One than I did from five years living with a stepdad who never really left the decade. There are page-long tangents about this old video game or that early computer, some of which was interesting, but most of which felt like reading through a bunch of Jeopardy! answers.
Although some of the 80's trivia was a bit of a distraction from the plot, some of it actually was important. Cline also mentioned more recent nerd-culture phenomenons, like Doctor Who, which was pretty awesome. The whole book was one big tip of the hat to nerds everywhere. I also absolutely loved Cline's portrayal of online relationships, particularly the one between Aech and Wade. He completely refutes the "they're not real friends, it's just the internet!" argument by having 90% of the world's social interactions take place in a virtual reality. I really liked Aech, Art3mis, and Shoto, and how their relationships with Wade developed through the contest - that was pretty realistic.
I'm not such a big fan of the romance between Wade and Art3mis. He's been, and I quote, "stalking" her for years, and suddenly he gets the chance to meet her! It's pretty cliche. When Wade started getting all lovey-dovey, his character got a lot more annoying. The romance wasn't all bad, though, and the last scene of the book was actually really sweet; I loved it.
Speaking of endings, Ready Player One ended exactly like you'd expect it to. I was hoping for one last good plot twist, but Cline stayed the course of predictability. It wasn't a bad ending, it just wasn't a surprise. The predictable ending and overabundance of nerd trivia lose two stars for Ready Player One, but it's still an enjoyable story. Definitely worth the read for any nerds out there.
The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa (Blood of Eden #2)
In Allison Sekemoto's world, there is one rule left: Blood calls to blood.
She has done the unthinkable: died so that she might continue to live. Cast out of Eden and separated from the boy she dared to love, Allie will follow the call of blood to save her creator, Kanin, from the psychotic vampire Sarren. But when the trail leads to Allie's birthplace in New Covington, what Allie finds there will change the world forever—and possibly end human and vampire existence.
There's a new plague on the rise, a strain of the Red Lung virus that wiped out most of humanity generations ago—and this strain is deadly to humans and vampires alike. The only hope for a cure lies in the secrets Kanin carries, if Allie can get to him in time.
Allison thought that immortality was forever. But now, with eternity itself hanging in the balance, the lines between human and monster will blur even further, and Allie must face another choice she could never have imagined having to make.
As far as sequels go, this book is decent. As far as vampire books go, this book is fantastic. Even though it's technically classified as Paranormal Romance, The Eternity Cure, and the entire Blood of Eden series, has more fantasy elements than swoon-worthy monsters.
I really like that the series is from Allison's point of view; Paranormal Romance books are almost always from the perspective of whoever's falling in love with the paranormal. Telling the story from the monster's point of view, and showing just how much she struggles to contain that nature, make the romance that much more believable. Showing Allison's fight to stay at least somewhat human also gave her a lot more depth as a character. Almost all the characters were better in The Eternity Cure than they were in The Immortal Rules, actually.
Kagawa's vampires are exciting and interesting to read about, and the taste of vampire politics readers see in this book adds to that. The new plague threatening New Covington is a creative plot twist, just another aspect of The Eternity Cure that sets it apart from the crowd. Kagawa artfully combines elements of the paranormal, fantasy, and dystopian genres in The Eternity Cure without sticking to too many cliches. Readers who love the paranormal genre but are dissatisfied with the Paranormal Romance craze will savor Kagawa's Blood of Eden series. The second installment in Allison's story is as well-paced and intriguing as the first, and I can't wait to get my hands on the third.
The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (The Maze Runner #2)
Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to.
Burned by sun flares and baked by a new, brutal climate, the earth is a wasteland. Government has disintegrated—and with it, order—and now Cranks, people covered in festering wounds and driven to murderous insanity by the infectious disease known as the Flare, roam the crumbling cities hunting for their next victim... and meal.
The Gladers are far from finished with running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.
Thomas can only wonder—does he hold the secret of freedom somewhere in his mind? Or will he forever be at the mercy of WICKED?
A lot of second books become nothing more than filler between books one and two, but The Scorch Trials is one of the best second books I've read. It starts off almost exactly where The Maze Runner left off; Dashner doesn't waste a second getting right back into the thick of things. There's barely a lull in the action for the rest of the book, and with every twist the story gets more exciting.
Ocassionally, Dashner throws character development to the wind in favor of action (there are a lot of "for some reason, Thomas felt..." sentences, etc), but not so much that it hurts the plot. The action itself is really, incredibly good; Thomas and the Gladers are constantly being thrown into imaginative and freaky situations. Each new danger is different enough to keep from being a repetition of the same old thing. The frequent, well-written action scenes made The Scorch Trials kind of thrilling.
The best and worst thing about this series is that I have absolutely no idea what's going on. Readers only know as much as Thomas does, which adds to the suspense and makes every new revelation that much more shocking - but it's also incredibly frustrating not to have any answers. Even though Dashner doesn't let much slip about WICKED's plan, the evidence he does provide doesn't just confuse readers, and his world-building is surprisingly well-executed. Knowing only as much as Thomas does makes it easier to sympathize with him, so readers who like feeling close to characters might like this series for that reason. Those who hate suspense might want to look elsewhere. I, for one, can't wait to see what all this has been building up to.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television "family." But when he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn't live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas of books instead of the mindless chatter of television, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known.
It's really hard to sum up my feelings about this book. I loved it, but I can also see why some people would hate it. Also, I hate typing the word "Fahrenheit."
Fahrenheit 451 is a cautionary tale, and one that's relevant even sixty years after its publication. As people take sides on the e-book/printed book debate and declare that the printed word is on its way out, Fahrenheit 451 asks, what if there weren't any books at all? Written around the time TV was becoming popular, Bradbury predicted a world where television replaced books and complacency replaced curiosity. However, despite the growth of technology, good old-fashioned books aren't going anywhere, and our world isn't about to end.
So while the ideas in Fahrenheit 451 are still relevant, they're exaggerated a whole lot. Technology isn't all bad, and not all TV is "mindless chatter." For some people, the amount of exaggeration in the book is just too much. Reading it as the cautionary tale it's meant to be, that's completely understandable. I chose to read it as a story about the importance of books and the ideas they contain. On that front, Fahrenheit 451 hits every mark. Like the expression "You don't know what you have until you lose it," Bradbury emphasizes the importance of books and critical thinking by creating a world without them.
For me, the exaggeration in the book is part of what makes it so good. Occasionally Bradbury goes off on a tangent, some of which are very lengthy, that sound more paranoid than philosophical, but most of them had a few good quotes. One the whole, the book was extremely good, and one I will probably read again.
More Than This by Patrick Ness
A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighborhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust, and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him? Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this. . .
I have absolutely no idea what to write in this review. On one hand, I'm awed by More Than This, but on the other, I'm really disappointed by it. More Than This was a mind game of a book, and I loved that it's so incredibly not a variation on five hundred other books.
The book probably didn't need to be 470 pages long, but I was intrigued by Seth's discoveries and there was a good amount of action, so I wasn't bored. Even when nothing much was happening, in the first part of the book, there was enough mystery to be interesting. The setting was fascinating all by itself, and Seth was a great character. All of the characters were truly great. They were believable and interesting and they had developed background stories. I really loved that when Seth tells Regine and Tomazs that he's gay, they don't make a huge deal out of it and just go on trying to survive. I liked the conflict of the story, their efforts to stay alive and figure out what had happened to them. I liked the "villain." I even liked the philosophy behind the book, even though it got pretty confusing at times. I liked the thought that there's more.
So why do I feel so let down by this book?
The best reason I can come up with is that it's so damn confusing. To a point, I liked that there was an air of mystery around everything that happened in the book, but that should have been resolved in the end. I would've been okay with an ambiguous ending, but we should have been offered undeniable proof of what that abandoned, decayed world was. There was a whole lot of evidence suggesting Regine was right, but Ness kept planting seeds of doubt that maybe, just maybe, Seth really was making it all up. (I realize this paragraph is probably confusing for people who haven't read the book, but I don't want to spoil anything).
I understand that was sort of the point and whether or not the world was real didn't matter. In the beginning, that was part of what kept the book interesting. But towards the end, those seeds of doubt started to feel a little forced. There was so much evidence against the theory that it wasn't all real, I think I would have liked the book more if Ness had just said, yes, this abandoned world is real and moved on. I have no doubt that more philosophic minds than mine will appreciate the uncertainty, but to me, it felt like Ness was trying too hard to tell us that it didn't matter.
Here I am at the end of the review, and I still don't know what to rate it. Ness' writing style was haunting and well done. The characters were great, the plot was interesting. But I didn't like how it was carried out, or how the book ended. I feel like everything wrong with this book is such a matter of opinion, I can't accurately rate it. With that in mind, I'm giving More Than This three stars because, while I don't think it's average, I also didn't like it enough to rate it higher. It was very, very good, but it was missing something.
The Hit by Melvin Burgess
(Available February 25)
A new drug is on the street. Everyone's buzzing about it. Take the hit. Live the most intense week of your life. Then die. It's the ultimate high at the ultimate price. Adam thinks it over. He's poor, and doesn't see that changing. Lizzie, his girlfriend, can't make up her mind about sleeping with him, so he can't get laid. His brother Jess is missing. And Manchester is in chaos, controlled by drug dealers and besieged by a group of homegrown terrorists who call themselves the Zealots. Wouldn't one amazing week be better than this endless, penniless misery? After Adam downs one of the Death pills, he's about to find out.
I was honored and excited to be able to read an ARC of The Hit. It posed an interesting question - would you rather live a long, boring life, or pack as much life as you could into a single week?
The plot moved quickly and kept me interested, while also making me wonder what would happen if Death were real. Despite a few minor worldbuilding issues (we never find out too much about how the government got so corrupt, or shown too many examples of its corruption), I was caught up in Adam and Lizzie's world. The Zealots, a group of revolutionaries, were cast as the good guys - and as good as their cause was, their use of self-immolation and suicide bombing was way too glorified. The incident that gave rise to the riots didn't really have any connection to the government and its corruption, which made it hard to believe as a cause for revolution.
The Hit had all the makings of a great book, and I probably would have given it three or four stars if it weren't for Adam himself. He's the kind of person I would try very, very hard to avoid in real life, and there were a bunch of times I'd have been happy to punch him in the face. Although Lizzie insists over and over again that he's really a sweet and kind boy, and it's just Death making him into such an ass, Adam was just as much of an ass before he took the drug. He talks about wanting Lizzie to love him so that he'll have access to her money, and even goes so far as to sabotage a condom in the hopes of getting her pregnant and tying her to him. Adam consistently expects others to fix what he's done wrong, when he won't do it himself.
As much as I hated Adam, I loved Lizzie. I have no idea what she saw in Adam, or why she continuously risked herself for him. Lizzie was a survivor, and a clever girl, and while I couldn't muster much pity for Adam, I was rooting for her the whole way.
The Hit was a roller coaster ride. The bad guys, the riots, and the Death kept it interesting and unpredictable. I was happy to discover it wasn't just a fast-paced adventure, but a story with a moral. Burgess' lesson about the value of life will stay with me far longer than anything else in this book.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.
And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed – even comforted – by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.
Never Let Me Go is told in a disconnected sort of way, more a collection of anecdotes than a proper plot. The plot of the book left me sort of underwhelmed; it wasn't too dramatic, and the romance seemed forced. The characters were interesting and they all had their quirks, but they didn't really seem to go together - there wasn't any chemistry for the romance, even though it was a huge part of the plot.
The plot, like I said, is rather disjointed and more a collection of short stories. It adds to the effect that Kathy is looking back on her life, but it overlooks a lot of the emotional impact of donations. We don't hear about the history of the donations and the donor children until the very last chapter, although we do get glimpses and a basic understanding throughout the book. The donor children were the most interesting part of the book. Both the children and the "normal" people's reaction to them providing an interesting look at humanity, but again we don't really get the full effect of it until the last chapter.
Because of the vague way Ishiguro told the story, I wanted to keep reading and find out more. In some ways, I suppose Ishiguro was telling us about the donations the way Kathy and her friends were told; a little bit at a time so it was never too shocking.
Looking back on it, there was a lot I enjoyed about Never Let Me Go, and it's definitely a book that will stay with me.
Pawn by Aimee Carter (The Blackcoat Rebellion #1)
(Available December 2013)
You can be a VII - if you give up everything. For Kitty Doe, it seems like an easy choice. She can either spend her life as a III in misery, looked down upon by the higher ranks and forced to leave the people she loves, or she can become a VII and join the most powerful family in the country.
If she says yes, Kitty will be Masked—surgically transformed into Lila Hart, the Prime Minister’s niece, who died under mysterious circumstances. As a member of the Hart family, she will be famous. She will be adored. And for the first time, she will matter.
There’s only one catch. She must also stop the rebellion that Lila secretly fostered, the same one that got her killed …and one Kitty believes in. Faced with threats, conspiracies and a life that’s not her own, she must decide which path to choose—and learn how to become more than a pawn in a twisted game she’s only beginning to understand.
The ideas behind Pawn are the same ones behind almost every dystopian book out there, and it hasn’t got much to make it stick out. The ranking system and government is neatly explained and pretty simple, which is a point in the book’s favor, but its plot circles around itself constantly. It’s very predictable, but it doesn’t entirely lack excitement. The Harts are the perfect dastardly villains, without a shred of good in some of them. Carter succeeded in making me hate them and keeping me guessing at their true intentions. However, most of the excitement leads to a standoff almost identical to one a chapter ago. Kitty’s reaction is always the same, and always centered around her love for her boyfriend and her fear of death; she doesn’t change at all through the course of the book.
The premise of the book, while similar to a lot of others, wasn’t disappointing. The point of dystopia is to point out flaws in our own world by exaggerating them into a fictional one, and Carter hit the nail on the head there. The idea of false equality for everyone in society and the promise that hard work would lead to the life everyone deserves mirrors some of the ideas in our society, and that aspect of the book was fairly interesting.
The symbolism of the ranking system wasn’t enough to earn the book more than two stars, however. There are a lot of books with similar ideas behind them (the most similar would be Starters by Lissa Price) that are much better written, and I’d be more likely to recommend one of those.
Once Upon a Time...
As a longtime lover of stories and a believer in the power and magic of books, I've spent my life seeking out the best reads. This blog is dedicated to reviewing the books I read - good, bad, or magnificent - to help other readers find their next favorite books.