Winter

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Rating: 4/5 stars

Review: Winter, the finale of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, neatly ties up all the loose ends of the previous three books. The novel effectively concludes the main conflict and follows the four central couples (Cinder & Kai (& Iko), Scarlet & Wolf, Cress & Thorne, and Winter & Jacin) to the end of their story.

Because the tale jumps between four sets of characters and the antagonist Levana, there is not as much room for character growth as there was in the previous books–disappointing because even Meyer’s novellas had strong characterization. I understand that it was necessary to follow all pairings, but this is the same problem I had in Avengers: Age of Ultron; characters were sacrificed for plot.

*spoiler*

Not literally sacrificed, though. Every protagonist survived despite apparent massive casualties in battle. The only character we lost was an adult who was only just introduced to the story. And while the happily-ever-after ending fits the Disney-fied fairy tale feel of the series, it disappoints me–it’s not the ending I expected Meyer to choose. To have one character (or a full pairing) die in the war seems natural and makes the characters more heroic, gives them more to fight for. Moreover, it would resolve the problem of a lack of character growth, shaping the main characters through the loss of their comrade(s). Original fairy tales, after all, often ended in loss.

*end spoiler*

I do appreciate some of the nods to fairy tales, though; Meyer has a knack for subtlety. When Winter eats the poisoned apple treat, for example, she is placed in a stasis chamber which opens into a bed of sorts.

But Winter doesn’t seem like the main character, though the title suggests otherwise. Since the previous three books were titled after their protagonist, this was disappointing. Winter had great potential as a protagonist, but she ends up a sidekick to Cinder, which just made me annoyed with Cinder and anxious to get back to a chapter with the Luna Lovegood-esque Winter. I expected the Lunar sickness to turn her into some sort of oracle. I expected Jacin to sacrifice himself for her. But I suppose I expected too much, and Winter did not become all she could be.

Recommendation: This book is worth reading for those who have come this far–and everyone should come this far because the series is incredibly well-constructed. But be warned that it will likely disappoint readers who have been in awe of Meyer’s strong characterization, which gets lost under the dense plot and large cast.

The series should be safe for advanced middle schoolers and up; it’s enjoyable for all ages.

 

[apologies again for the month-long silence; sophomore year gave me quite a heavy workload! These silences are likely to occur more often as I jump from study abroad trip to a full credit load and four jobs to studying for the GRE, but I will read and review as much as I am able in the meantime.]

 

Their Fractured Light

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Rating: 3/5

Review: Their Fractured Light was somewhat of a disappointment (though certainly not in the cover). It’s been a year since I read the last book and two years since I’ve read the first book. From what I remember, Their Fractured Light seems like a very similar romantic plot to the first two novels. *spoiler* Honestly, when I got to see all three couples together, I had a hard time telling them apart. *end spoiler*

I wouldn’t mind that so much–since I loved the first couple books–but I was tired of the characters before they started. I couldn’t buy into the central romantic obstacle of not trusting because the author allowed me to know both sides of the romance and see when both sides were telling the truth. That they didn’t feel like they could trust one another then felt foolish to me.

Maybe I’ve just outgrown this series. I still remember the emotional roller coaster of the first book, but it’s hard to know if my increasing age is why this book felt more like one of those orange and blue slides for toddlers.

Recommendation: This series is best read one after another. Fans of sci-fi, dystopian romances would likely enjoy this series. If you read the first book of this trilogy when it was first released like I did, be warned that you might not enjoy the finale as much as you once hoped.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Rating: 5/5 stars

Review: More female characters, more ethnic representation, more accents, more good acting. Perhaps most interestingly, The Force Awakens also has more music in the same vein as the previous Star Wars films.

I don’t aim to spoil anything, so I’m not even going to talk about the plot other than to say that it’s pretty good and doesn’t have as many plot holes as its predecessors–though it does ring of a very familiar plot path. But, if it worked before, why not now?

The main goal of this post is to talk about who should and shouldn’t watch the new Star Wars.

  1. Don’t watch the new Star Wars unless you’ve seen the first three (the main series, not the prequels). This isn’t a necessity per se, but you’ll appreciate the movie much more if you understand the central conflict between the Rebels and the Empire and the roles of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewy, etc.
  2. Don’t watch the new Star Wars with little kids–especially if they’re prone to nightmares. Most of the movie is fine, but there are a couple scenes that could fuel bad dreams. The special effects are much better now than they were when the first series was produced, which allows for more thrillingly (and frighteningly) realistic aliens and injuries.
  3. Do watch the new Star Wars if you’re interested and not disqualified by the first two don’ts. It was cool to watch the Star Wars title come onto the screen and the original theme music blast through the theater. The theater, by the way, was packed for the Imax 3D showing on a Tuesday night.

I think that covers the basics, but if you have any other questions about the film or want specifics, just comment below.

The Heart Goes Last

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Review: Margaret Atwood’s new dystopian novel The Heart Goes Last, while initially well-designed, fails to make a lasting impression.

The book follows Stan and Charmaine, a young couple living in the midst of an economic crash. Desperate for safety and normality, they sign up for the Positron Project, a clean, structured town where inhabitants live and labor in the gender-separated prison of Positron for a month and stay in the fifties-esque town of Consilience the next. Atwood manages to patch together a world like that of 1984 and The Stepford Wives mixed with her own developments. When both Stan and Charmaine become involved with their “Alternates,” the people who live in their home the months the couple is in prison, the story becomes more complicated.

The novel focuses on the relationship between Stan and Charmaine, which becomes increasingly tangled as the plot progresses. Atwood does a fantastic job adding depth to the couple by revealing their candid, often disturbing thoughts. Even more hauntingly, the dystopian world Atwood describes so well could easily fit into the next few years.

Though unsettling, the book is, at least, an enjoyable read. Stan’s prison side job as chicken pimp, a woman romantically attached to a teddy bear, and the growing absurdity of the main couple’s situation prompt a few smiles.

Atwood’s voice is also impressive. Some of her lines provoke deep thought while others aim to entertain, and she writes so smoothly there is never a clash between the two. She is even able to catch me off guard with a couple plot twists that stomp my initial predictions away.

In the last quarter of the book, though, the story seems to get out of Atwood’s hands. The stitches that pull the novel together become more obvious and start to fray. The plot gradually loses its realism, pieces don’t match up quite right, and secondary characters lose their depth. Worse yet, the dystopian clichés that Atwood initially appears to use jokingly become more serious and groan-worthy. Near the novel’s end, the story’s humor fades and takes on a more moralistic tone.

Atwood crams the last few chapters with events meant to drive the main themes home, but, though interesting, these events seem too much like an afterthought. The final chapters don’t drive the main themes home as much as they pull these themes to the surface. By the end, Atwood bares the story’s already thinly veiled meaning to readers as though they are incapable of jumping to interpretations themselves.

Still, the central meaning is designed better than similar stories, and it is an enjoyable read.

The problem with The Heart Goes Last is not a matter of enjoyment, though. The problem is that the heart of the novel goes before the Atwood is finished, but she keeps working at it anyway, hoping a frenzy of shocks will keep it alive until the end. In truth, the story flat-lines before Atwood is willing to wrap it up.

Recommendation: Fans of Atwood might be able to overlook these issues and appreciate the author’s intent. I think fans of The Stepford Wives and more mature fans of The Giver may also value this novel. It is a likable read for a general audience, but those unable to enjoy books featuring extramarital affairs, customizable prostitute robots, and “Big Brother” settlements should stay away.

Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book–even if I didn’t review it until it was published.

Top Ten Little-Known Novels

A little while back, Goodreads voted for the best books of 2014. If you’ve been following my account, I’ve read many good books this year, and quite a few were nominated in the Young Adult Fantasy category. I fully expected one of those high-rated novels to win. (The Winner’s Curse, These Broken Stars, Ruin and Rising, Heir of Fire, Cress, and The One were some of my favorites this year.)

Imagine my surprise, then, when Cassandra Clare’s City of Heavenly Fire won. I rated The Mortal Instruments series low recently. Also, I don’t believe Clare needs any more publicity. Her novels have already caught the eye of the film industry, reaching an even larger audience than they did before. Her bigger fan base is why she won, I’m sure, but it’s also why she shouldn’t have won.

Oh, well. Life is unfair.

Because of this little blip in my otherwise perfect reading world, I decided to make a list of my own praising the lesser read novels I have rated highly. Each of the 10 novels listed below has less than 10,000 ratings on Goodreads but five stars in my rating system.

  1. Enchanted by Alethea Kontis: 9,581 ratingsEnchanted brings the fairy tale world to life, mixing dozens of fairy tales in an irresistible concoction. Kontis focuses on the princess and the frog story (which, if you haven’t read the Grimm’s version yet, please do so; you’re in for quite the shock). This book was intoxicating to the point where overly-fantastical character names and nauseating romance seemed almost normal–exactly what I want from a fairy tale adaptation. I think it helped that I was such a fairy tale nerd. Plus, it’s safe for all ages.
  2. The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke: 9,395 ratings The Assassin’s Curse blends a middle-eastern setting with a magical world. What really bought my love in this book is the main character, Ananna of the Tanarau. Besides sounding like the French word for pineapple, Ananna is witty, intelligent, fiery, and really everything I could ask for in a main character. The assassin whose life she saves is equally as captivating and I couldn’t help but ship them. Besides, who doesn’t love a good pirate book?
  3. The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Francis Long: 3,804 ratingsThe Treachery of Beautiful Things is another book that mixes fairy tales, but it’s surprisingly dark and most of the characters have normal names this time! It drew more from the fey of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and less from the fairies of Grimm, Anderson, or Perrault. I loved the brother-sister relationship and Jack interested me from the start, shrouded in secrets as he was. Most of all, I loved the main idea that the more beautiful something is, the more treacherous it is (thus the title). It applies to the cover itself, which, though beautiful, annoys me because of the use of a stock photo… Nonetheless, The Treachery of Beautiful Things is a must-read for faery lovers.
  4. Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch: 3,668 ratings Snow Like Ashes is my most recent read, and since it just came out I’m certain it will gain more ratings soon. It certainly deserves it. Raasch first wrote this book when she was 12 years old, but it is in no way childish. The warring kingdoms plot is tired, but this novel is different in that the kingdom of the protagonist, Meira, was defeated. It is ultimately up to her and seven other refugees to save those who survive in labor camps. The use of magic in this book is also unique, since each kingdom has a conduit and each of the Season kingdoms lives constantly in their season. (Meira’s kingdom, for example, was constantly winter.) The use of an alternative weapon (a chakram) is applaudable and the fierceness and depth of Meira drew me to her from the start. Though I’m always a skeptic of love triangles (who could possibly win the heart of two men?), this love triangle feels natural. I mean, who couldn’t love Meira? Especially considering what the plot twist reveals…
  5. Stork by Wendy Delsol: 2,206 ratings Stork blends Norse myth with Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” Though it starts off in the usual “pretty girl’s parents divorce and she moves to new town and new school” format, Delsol constructed a one-of-a-kind plot. The main character, Kat, is the first fashion-savvy character I’ve read about in YA, but she was also funny (and, we later find, quite powerful). The series didn’t seem completely natural to me (the romance included), but the unique concepts really pushed this book to five stars.
  6. Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury: 1,934 ratings Just look at that cover! Wrapped is a historical fiction novel that features an intelligent (yet confined) debutante. I never knew the popularity of unwrapping Egyptian mummies among the wealthy during the Regency period; it’s simultaneously grotesque and intriguing. More points to this book for teaching me something new! I love the time period, the plot, and, most of all, the protagonist. Agnes is nerdy, funny, and complex; besides, who can resist a fellow Jane Austen fan? Between Agnes, the plot, and the cover, you’re sure to like this novel.
  7. Linked by Imogen Howson: 1,821 ratings By now, I’m pretty sure you’ve figured out how much I judge books by their covers. Linked is no exception. Just look at that beauty! But the cover isn’t all. Howson’s sci-fi focuses on a once-popular schoolgirl turned ill. When the protagonist discovers the reason for her mysterious bruises, pains, and visions, the plot takes off, and I happily flew along. Twins, a love/hate relationship, and a run from a utopian society make this novel one of my favorites. (And the sequel is just as good.)
  8. Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick: 840 ratings Do not read this if you are passionate about historical adaptations remaining factual. Though the events of this historical fantasy are rooted in true events of the Russian Revolution, it does deviate quite a bit. I thought the fantastical aspects fit into the time period quite well, given the magical qualities of Rasputin. The main character, Natalya, is both loyal to the Romanovs and sympathetic towards Russian peasants. She is feisty, independent, and lovable. The love between her and Alexi was believable and subtle, and my main ship was even more convincing. It helps that I love the name Leo.
  9. The Glass Maker’s Daughter by V. Briceland: 595 ratings The Glass Maker’s Daughter threw me into a new world full of magic lightly based on medieval Italy, where seven entitled families practice each specialize in an art to the point of magic. The main character, Risa Divetri, grew up in the family that specialized in glass making–that’s what got me to pick up this book in the first place. Glass has always enchanted me; who’s to say it couldn’t hold actual enchantment? It impressed me because it had all the romance and intrigue without all the sex and gore. Risa’s magic did not manifest until later, but I appreciated that; after all, who needs magic to be special? Risa makes a path for herself without any supernatural abilities.
  10. The House of Windjammer by V.A. Richardson: 144 ratings How could this book not have more ratings? The House of Windjammer may have a slow start, but don’t let that stop you. I learned more through this novel than through any other book listed here. Did you know the Dutch were once so crazed about tulips they treated various varieties like investments or stocks? Did you know Dutch trade with the Americas was dictated by private companies (primarily the Dutch West India Company)? Did you know how much worse banks were back in the 1600s? The novel made clear the heavy amount of research the author did on the 1630s in Amsterdam. Even the characters are flawed to the point of realisticness. And did I mention there’s another love/hate romance brewing? My favorite kind!

These books deserve far more ratings than they have. (I feel like an ASPCA commercial: save the books!)

Do you know any other books that should be more popular? Comment below!