Brief Book Reviews (summer 2014)

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A general guide for ratings:

5/5–I would buy this
4/5–I will re-read this
3/5–I might read this again
2/5–I have no interest in reading this again
1/5–I couldn’t finish this

In reading order:

Insurgent and Allegiant (Divergent sequels, Veronica Roth) 3/5–I’m going to give this series overall a solid 3/5.  I really like a lot of the ideas the books had, but the execution was lacking, especially in terms of prose and plot.  I liked most of Tris’s story arc, but I don’t believe the efforts of the group at the end of Allegiant would have had any meaningful impact on the world at large (as Tris and Four do).

Seraphina (Rachel Hartman) 5/5— This book is magical.  Dragons masquerading as humans, Renaissance music, and a slow-building love story.  I stayed up all night to finish it.  The writing, characters, and world building (especially the religious aspects) are exquisite.  I love the way Seraphina is described as “prickly;” I think a lot of my favorite female protagonists fit this description.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Rae Carson) 4/5–Another great YA fantasy.  I love love love the setting; something about the Spanish/Latin influences really resonated with me.  I really enjoyed the way the story went in some unexpected directions, and there was still plenty of adventure and romance.  The main character Elisa was good, though not my favorite, and I still don’t like first-person-present-tense narration.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

Longbourn (Jo Baker) 3/5–This is the first Pride and Prejudice “spin-off” book I have ever read; I guess I like writing fanfiction more than reading it.  This story takes place during and after P&P from the servants’ viewpoint.  The connection to the original is intriguing but sometimes tenuous, and some of the Austen characters show a different side of themselves here.

The beginning was a bit slow, then I really liked the middle part as the love story kicked in, and then the last third went off in another direction entirely and petered out.  The war in Spain was interesting (maybe I just liked it because she mentions Salamanca?), but after that I really lost interest.  Downton Abbey fans especially may like this one as it has some similar themes.

The Fault in Our Stars (John Green) 3.5/5–This book was extremely well-written.  I just think I am about 10 years too old for it.  I did not like the main characters; if I met Hazel or Gus in real life, I doubt I would be friends with either.  Hazel thinks V for Vendetta is a “boy movie,” and Gus pushes a friend to egg his ex’s car.  I just can’t even.

John Green, I am so sorry.  I think you are awesome, and I’m sorry this book made me roll my eyes and not cry.  Don’t feel too bad, I felt the exact same way about Catcher in the Rye (and I was even 17 when I read that one).  Also, I want you to know that when Hazel and Gus have that ridiculous conversation about their food in Amsterdam, in my head I heard you and your brother Hank saying those lines to each other and I laughed out loud.

The Golem and the Jinni (Helene Wecker) 4/5–At this point, I was really ready for some grown-up books.  This debut novel takes mythical creatures from Hebrew and Arabic traditions and plops them in turn-of-the-century NYC, making for a wonderful combination of historical fiction and fantasy.  There are some very interesting twists and turns, and many great side characters in addition to the two titular main characters.

Leviathan Wakes (James S.A. Corey) 4.5/5–This sci-fi thriller/noir combo is pretty intense at times. The beginning blew my mind and it just kept going from there; I was saying “Holy shit!” out loud at least every few chapters.  The characterization is wonderful–my favorite scene was actually towards the end of the book where the ship’s crew is just having a meal together.  I’m pretty sure this book has just about everything you could want in a space opera.  I can’t wait to keep reading this series (called The Expanse).

4 Recent YA SciFi/Fantasy Books

After A Dance with Dragons I wanted something lighter to read, so I’ve been catching up with some great YA novels that came out (fairly) recently.  No spoilers here, just brief reviews.  A general guide to ratings:

5/5–I would buy this
4/5–I will re-read this
3/5–I might read this again
2/5–I have no interest in reading this again
1/5–I couldn’t finish this

House of Hades (Rick Riordan) 5/5—  The 4th book in the Heroes of Olympus series featuring the wildly popular Percy Jackson and friends.  This was a great read, though maybe not my favorite book of the series.  Percy and Annabeth’s journey through Tartarus was pretty bleak and uninspiring; it had a lot of descriptions of them being tired and dirty and in pain, but able to carry on because the other is there.  It sounds sweet at first, but gets a little old after the fifth repetition.  However, the character development for Leo, Frank, and in particular Nico is really incredible.  The book does re-introduce a lot of characters from previous books that I didn’t remember all that well.  Just another reason for me to buy the series, so I can read the all again!

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Hero (Alethea Kontis) 4/5— The 2nd book about the Woodcutter family, following Enchanted.  I actually liked this slightly better than the first one–less complex and more focused.  It stars Saturday “Works-hard-for-a-living” Woodcutter, with only minor appearances from Monday and Thursday among the sisters; the streamlined cast is much less confusing.  It’s a fun adventure with some gender-bending motifs along the way.  The ending opens up an overarching plot to lead into the next forthcoming book.

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Fall of Five (Pittacus Lore) 3/5–The 4th book in the Lorien Legacies series.  After their defeat by Setrákus Ra at the end of The Rise of Nine, the Garde survivors have regrouped in Chicago, and are heartened by contact with their last member, Number Five.  But do the Garde know who they can trust?  They discover they may have allies on the other side, as well as traitors in their midst.  As with the previous books, it’s fairly light on characterization and heavy on action; it switches between 3 narrators, who can be difficult to distinguish.  There are some good plot twists, and although you’ll see some coming, it’s generally a good ride (however I preferred Rise of Nine).  There’s also a whole mass of short stories that go with this series which could be fun to read.

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Divergent (Veronica Roth) 3/5–I wanted to read this before the movie comes out later this month.  There are some issues with the premise of this dystopian society, but if you can get past that, the book has some really nice ideas about human nature, the nature of fear, and the intersection of attributes such as honesty, selflessness, and courage.  The prose is average and the characters were not super compelling for me: Tris is a nice narrator, but so unlike me I couldn’t really relate, and Four is definitely not my type.  Where the book really shines is the emotional core; if this book doesn’t make you feel something, I think you might be dead inside.  Bonus: no love triangle!!