Mike

Hello. My name is Mike. I don't really use BookLikes a whole lot - my main account is at GoodReads, at you can visit it here. The only reason I came here is because a lot of GR members have been leaving for no good reason due to a controversy regarding censorship.  Anyway, if you want to get in contact with me, GR is really the place. But anyway, I really enjoy YA, with the occasional MG or adult book. I also love reading the librettos of musicals, although I have a lot of trouble finding them. Other than reading, I also like music and dancing. I am fourteen years old, and I go to an arts school with a major in dance and a minor in creative writing.

The Departure - Katherine Applegate

Oh, Katherine Applegate, Michael Grant, what would I do without you?

Animorphs has always been an important series to me. It was the first series I read that wasn't an I-Can-Read book, the first one where not every word was analyzed in order to develop kids' vocabulary. I'd never seen anything like it; not just the action and the originality in the premise (sorta), but also, the revolving narration! The fact that I could actually feel sympathy for girls! But as important as Animorphs was, this book was always special; other than The Sickness, it was my very favorite. Cassie was always my favorite character (because she's exactly like me in every way possible), and so I loved her books. I re-read this one recently.

To say that I cried would be an understatement.

Reading this book was an enormously emotional experience, and not just because of the nostalgia. This is the best book of the series. Period. In terms of writing, in terms of plotting, in terms of characterization, this is the closest to perfection that the series has ever managed, and it's one of my very favorite books ever.

Here's the premise: Cassie has quit the Animorphs. She's sick of the battles, sick of the pressure, sick of the killing. Then, when she sees Karen, a little girl, getting chased by a bear, she tries to help. She ends up hitting her head and passing out in a river, being carried down for miles. She's lost in the woods with Karen. Turns out, Karen is a controller, and she's been following Cassie. She knows exactly who Cassie is, and Cassie has to kill her. Only... she doesn't.

Cassie's interactions with Karen are positively mesmerizing. Up until now in the series, we've been led to believe that it's exactly as you're likely to see in pretty much every other MG novel or TV show in existence: all the yeerks are evil, they're all irredeemable, and they all need to die. But for the first time, we see that it isn't like that, that it's actually so much more complicated. This is the first time we see thatKaren's yeerk is a person too. Let me tell you, after 18 books of seeing the yeerks as evil, this was tough for me to wrap my mind around as a kid. But now, I couldn't be more grateful that Applegate decided to include it in the series. I personally think it's a horrible message to send to kids that an entire species can be pure evil; how does that bode for them when they get into a real war? How does it bode for them when they think it's good that the other side is dying in mass numbers, because they're all evil? This is the kind of attitudes that caused the Holocaust, people. But Applegrant is so much better that. The situation that the yeerks are in is completely explored, and poignantly as well; by the end of the book, we're not completely sure that the Animorphs are the good guys anymore.

This is exactly the kind of thing that kids need to read. Kids need to understand from an early age that morality isn't black and white, that there's no such thing as pure evil or pure good. Kids need to read thought-provoking things like this; that's what makes them smarter, what helps them learn how to think for themselves. How could you justify giving a book to kids that makes them think that the enemy is evil, and the enemy is always evil? That sends the message not only that pure good and evil exist, but that all evil needs to be vanquished (again, that's basically what the Holocaust was), and that the protagonist - and by extension the reader - is always good. It makes kids less likely to consider that they're wrong, and God knows, it's already hard enough. But Animorphs is the antithesis to all that; like a lot of series, it presents a complicated conflict, but unlike most, it actually explores what makes that conflict so complicated. For the first time, Cassie, (and by extension the reader) is forced to look at things through a yeerk's perspective, and once you do that, you can sort of see why they want to take over the world.

So now that I'm done with that academic essay, I'll actually talk about the book. Not only was all that moral ambiguity thought-provoking, it was also a bit touching; as I said, I found myself crying throughout several parts of the book. It helps that Cassie is such a well-developed character, complete with flaws, strengths, and personality. Aftran is, too, surprisingly enough, because I mean, villains with personality?Seriously, no kids' writers did that in the '90's. Or now. (Not that I have much familiarity with middle-grade now, because even though I'm young enough to have read a lot of it, I don't like any kids' books published after 2004, even though I was too young to read any of it when it came out. I'm a strange person, okay?) But it's also moving because of the ramifications it holds, or the ramifications it should hold, because everything we've seen here is brought up exactly once later in the series. You suddenly see a lot of pain that you didn't know was ever going on, and from the yeerks, no less. Applegrant is such a good writer(s) that the transition between villain and anti-villain for the yeerks was almost seamless, and I'm shocked by how fast I felt sympathy for them.

So basically, Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant are amazing writers. Phenomenal ones. And this entire series is phenomenal, and it doesn't deserve to die. So, go ahead; the first book should be cheap from Amazon. I promise, you won't regret it.

Eve & Adam - Michael  Grant, Katherine Applegate

If you know anything about me, the first thing you'll know is how much I love Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant. I read Animorphs from the second I was deemed old enough, and I absolutely ate them up. I haven't read much else by the duo, but I'm working on the Remnants series, and I liked Grant's Gone. This is the first and only project they've done together since Remnants ended in 2003. And it didn't disappoint a bit. This is a fun book, reminiscent of Animorphs. It's far from perfect - the first 30 pages or so are unbelievably rushed, the ending was also rushed and sort of unsatisfying, and Eve wasn't developed quite the way I'd like. Still, this was a fast-paced, well written thriller, and I loved every second of it.

I'll get this out of the way first: yes, this is conceptually similar to the Maximum Ride series. They share the same sense of fun, the focus on genetic engineering and an evil scientist cooperation, and the focus on action. In all of these regards, I'd say that Eve and Adam is like Maximum Ride, only better. This novel subverts cliches instead of relying on them, it handles teenspeak far better than Patterson ever did (making it better written, since the teenspeak is pretty much the only element of Patterson's writing), its plot actually seems to have been thought out by someone who knew the meaning of the word 'continuity', and its characters are much more interesting.

Normally, I don't like action oriented novels, unless we're talking about middle-grade. But books by Applegrant are the exception. Their action scenes are much better written than most of the ones you're likely to find in YA, and they really know how to add in character development without letting the pacing drag. They sometimes take the pacing element a bit far (such as in the very beginning), but it's largely not an issue. This actually applies to a lesser extent here than Applegrant's other novels; this is easily the lightest thing they've ever written. Basically, if you liked the action here, you'll loveRemnants, Animorphs, and Gone.

A lot of people complained about the pacing throughout the novel's first half, but I didn't have a problem with it. Applegrant does a good job of not letting the characters not focus on one thing for too long, meaning that it felt like lots of things were happening, even when that wasn't the case. Plus, there were a few mysteries abound for that length, giving the novel a sense of tension. The reveals weren't always completely surprising, but they were always interesting, and they always had the ramifications that this kind of twist deserved.

But it feels like an injustice to the book for me to only focus on the action; after all, what I liked was that Applegrant seamlessly wove together action and character development, not the action on its own. The cast of characters here was almost completely on par with Applegrant's normal characterization skills. I say 'almost', because while Eve was well-rendered, she wasn't particularly interesting.

But everyone else was. I really liked Solo; his emotional arc was interesting to me. Applegrant did an excellent job portraying someone who had no parents, who had felt abandoned and unloved for the last few years of his life. The reveal about his family in the end felt completely appropriate for his arc, and added to it beautifully; I hope to see this expanded upon in the sequel.

I also really liked Aislin. She'll seem like a stereotype of a bad girl at first, what with hanging out with an obviously dangerous boyfriend, doing drugs, carrying condoms in her purse, and constantly being called a slut by Evening's mom. Stick with her; by the end of the novel, Applegrant fully explored how messed up her life really is, along with how dangerous her boyfriend is for her and how hard it is for her to break up with him.

And then there's Adam. Adam reminded me a lot of Ax; someone who was adgusting to a completely unfamiliar world, and being absolutely hysterical about it. Well, it's not so much him that's hilarious as the people around him reacting to his hotness in a hilariously over-the-top way. Anyway, as with Ax, I found him to be a nice exploration of how someone unfamiliar with our world would react to it.

It's also behind Adam that lies Applegrant's message in this book. I was worried going in that I'd get a predictable and predictably annoying anti-science message, as with Maximum Ride. But actually, I was pleasantly surprised; the message was an exploration of whether science was good or bad, whether it was worth it to break the law and hurt a few people to save millions. It's surprisingly thought-provoking stuff, and it certainly had me thinking after the novel's ending.

Don't go into this novel expecting something gut-wrenching; you won't get it. Because this is commercial-lit, just as much as it's about its characters. That's part of what makes it so interesting, that Applegrant created something that'll appeal to fans of action-oriented books (specifically MG) and also appeal to fans of more literary YA. It's not literary in itself, but it's reminiscent of the literary novels that Applegate's been writing lately. You don't need the emotions to be gut-wrenching to be interesting, as Applegrant proves to me time and time again.

The commercial-lit elements are aided by the writing, which is breezy and effortless without being simplistic. This is one of the better novels featuring teenspeak I've read; Applegrant demonstrates a surprisingly good understanding of how teenagers actually talk, so it never felt forced or obligatory. Plus, each character had their own separate voice, so I never had to check back to see who was narrating. In particular, I liked Solo's voice. It did a good job of showing how he's trapped between being a regular teenager and being an unrealistically smart computer genius.*

If I had one major complaint (and I do), it's an overall lack of tension. In the first half, the stakes are almost completely nonexistent for Eve, which probably contributes to my feeling that she's uninteresting and the complaints of poor pacing throughout the first half. The second half has the opposite problem; the stakes change too quickly for us to get a real sense of peril. We know exactly what happens if Solo and Eve succeed, but not if they fail. This makes for a less exciting plot, and it's the main thing that makes me feel like this is a good example of a standard Applegrant novel, only less successful.

But overall, this is still one of the best pieces of commercial literature I've ever read. It was well-written, with interesting characters and a plot that was well thought out. Its appeal is far more universal than most of YA, and by that I mean it appeals to boys just as much as girls.** If you're into action, or even more thought-provoking, literary stuff, I could picture you being satisfied by this book; I certainly was.

*Because seriously, I don't care how much time you've spent around computers, nobody without college training is as good with them as Solo is.

**Well, everything I read appeals to boys to some extent, because I read it, but this appeals to the average boy.

BZRK - Michael Grant

I'm... a little on the fence about this one. People warned me that this wasn't very good compared to Gone, but I didn't really consider it for a second. I've read more of Grant's stuff than just Gone - I've also read Eve and Adam, Animorphs, and I'm working on Remnants. (For comparison, most Gone fans have never heard of Remnants and think that K.A. Applegate wrote Animorphs alone.) He's never disappointed me yet. But while this wasn't a bad book, it wasn't quite on-par with what I'm used to from him.

I think the problem is that he spent too much time and energy trying to make the nanobots cool. And make no mistake, theywere cool, but not cool enough to carry a novel. There was a lot of information to give about them, and while he never quite infodumps, the novel is still slowed as a result. The plot took a surprisingly long time to get off its feet, and a couple times, tense scenes were interrupted by necessary exposition. I get that Grant was trying to make the nanobots interesting and realistic, but it would've worked better if he had made things a little simpler.

That said, once the plot got off its feet, it really worked for me. The action sequences where tense, exciting, and unique. Since people with biots control their own bodies and their biots at the same time, Grant often had to write two action sequences at once, yet he pulled it off without a single bit of confusion. The body horror was just as intense as usual, and everything was very unpredictable. My only problem was the cliffhanger. I don't think cliffhangers are inherently bad, as some people do, but this one sacrificed resolution of the plot, meaning that I felt less like I was in suspense and more like I was missing the last twenty pages of the book. But other than that, everything worked for me, just as much as usual.

Alas, Grant stumbles a bit again in the characters. This novel reads older than most of what he writes - Noah and Sadie are both in their late teens, and most of the side cast are in their twenties. Perhaps this forage out of his comfort zone is why the characters aren't as interesting as they are in most of Grant's novels. Sure, they're mostly well-rendered, and Noah and Sadie have a really sweet romance, but that's it. The large cast of side characters are mostly wasted, their potential ruined by the fact that Grant is too busy expositioning about nanobots to write an honest, human moment. They felt like real people, but they weren't interesting enough to carry the novel the way I would've hoped.

But what did work for me was the prose. As usual, Grant's writing is clear, concise, efficient, and effortless. Never was I aware of his presence while reading the book, because nothing awkward ever happened. My one problem was that he insisted on telling us everything about a character's personality the first time we met him or her, rather than him showing it. Other than that, it was perfect.

But overall, I have mixed feelings. I'll still recommend this book, because it's Michael Grant. And I'll read the sequel, because it's Michael Grant. But as (I think it's safe to call myself this) one of his biggest fans, this is not his best work. I'd strongly recommendGone, Animorphs, Remnants, or even Eve and Adam over this - Grant has written far better novels that deserve attention more than this one.

Fear - Michael  Grant

I feel like I've already written this review. We're five books into the Gone series, and I feel like my opinion is exactly the same on each one. Look, you want to know what I think of this book? Here you go. You want more?  I got more. You still don't understand how I feel?  This should clear it up for you. You don't like any of those reviews? That's okay - I wrote another one. This isn't to say that they all feel like the same book - they all have a distinctive plot that never feels like a rehash, there's a noticeable progression of an overarching plot, and the tone gets progressively darker throughout the book. But my opinion seems to blend together when I think about them individually. They all have well-rendered characters, they all have a nicely structured plot, and their darkness makes them all a unique reading experience. The one thing that changes from book to book is the quality of the prose, and in this one, it's top notch, Hunger-level quality.

So I'll take this opportunity to discuss something else, instead. This book, if you haven't read any of its reviews, is distinctly a boy book, very much commercial lit. I've been interested in the type of books that adults give to teenagers lately, and commercial lit is one of those types, the other being classics. (And I'll do a rant about classics once I finish The Good Earth) I've previously ranted about a bad commercial lit book - in my review of I Am Number Four, and since there's nothing else to say here, I figured I'd take this opportunity to talk about a book that does commercial lit well. Because really, Grant is a master of the genre. He manages to evade nearly every single mistake that typical boy books make, which is why I feel that if you're going to give anything to reluctant readers, this is your best bet - this and Mike Mullin's Ashfall.

 

One mistake that a lot of boy books make, that I didn't really go into in my review of I Am Number Four, stems from a desire to make the book's appeal universal: they try to create a protagonist that every teenage boy everywhere can relate to.  Sound familiar?  These books handle it with about as much grace as Twilight did, making the protagonist very bland. They tend to be very into girls, they use painful slang, and they're otherwise entirely boring. Grant averts that here and still manages to make the book's appeal universal by creating an ensemble cast full of different personalities so that virtually everyone will have someone to relate to. Sam has a few of the typical boy book hero characteristics (he can be a bit of a Gary Stu at times, especially early on), but Grant doesn't try to write him as someone that everyone everywhere will be identical to. And this also opens the book's audience to girls, since the girls are just as interesting as the boys, making the appeal genuinely universal, rather than just universal to all boys. Whether the reluctant reader is shy or outgoing, sarcastic or genuine, funny or series, strong or weak, black or white or Hispanic or Asian, gay or straight, boy or girl, there is someone for him/her to relate to here - meaning there's someone for you.

 

(I'm totally Lana, by the way. I'm slightly Sanjit, and I've got a touch of Astrid, but mostly Lana.)

 

Another mistake that Grant averts, similar to the one above, is that he doesn't simplify his world for his readers, and he doesn't assume that they'll overlook logical fallacies. One of the most baffling reading experiences of my life was when I read Michael Vey Prisoner of Cell 25. The science felt like it was meant to be real, but over and over again, something that made no sense happened, without so much as a lampshade. Laws were ignored. Statistics were given to us that were blatantly impossible. It just plain out didn't make sense - the world was a simple one, where only the story mattered. But Grant seems to know that teenagers are smarter than that. All the characters are acutely fleshed out here, and every one of them has a complex character arc because we live in a complex world. He acknowledges the need for food and water for the survival of the kids in the FAYZ, and he deals with it in a realistic way. He doesn't overlook the results of kids developing supernatural powers among those that don't have them. None of his characters are truly good or truly evil; they're all human, no matter their role in the story. Everybody knows that the world we live in is complex; and really, why would anyone want to read a simplified version of it? Where's the honesty in that? Where's the value? Realistic complexity makes reading more interesting for everyone, no matter who the audience, and Grant doesn't once forget that.

 

And, finally, he doesn't make the plot stand for itself. This is the most common singular mistake among commercial lit; they try to imitate an action movie so that boys feel like they're in familiar territory. There's no character development, there's no exploration of themes, there's no honesty, there's just Stuff Happening. This always seemed like a mistake in getting kids to stick around after they've read one book; why should they, when they can get the same thing from movies? I suppose I don't need to tell you that Grant doesn't need to do that. I've pretty much demonstrated this before, but Grant fleshes out his characters. They all have character arcs, and there are scenes devoted solely to those arcs. I can't imagine reluctant readers being bored by it, because there's so much going on in spite of it. And the interactions are so well-written that sooner or later, they'll have to get invested in it. And then they'll see something that they don't see in action movies, something truly new that will make them want to read more books. There's an extremely strong plot here, but the characters are what truly invested me in it.

 

Before I make Grant out as this god among demons, I'll point out that the series does have its flaws. Grant uses some pretty painful slang in the earlier books of the series, slang being one of the things that annoys me about commercial lit. He also uses some pretty cheap tricks to generate suspense, like having Drake be an unrealistically good fighter or [spoiler]making him entirely unkillable.[/spoiler] But they're very minor flaws; this is an expertly crafted, expertly executed series with an entirely universal appeal that I'd recommend to everyone.

Plague: A Gone Novel - Michael Grant

Wow. I'm finding it hard to walk away from that book with any feelings other than 'impressed'. Also, 'scared as fuck'. I'm not sure if this is the best book of the series so far, because nothing can match the sheer skill of the plotting and writing in Hunger, but this was certainly the most extreme. Everything about the series - the darkness, the nightmare fuel, the mysteries, the complexity in the plotting - was amped up a notch. Grant's books have always been a pretty unique reading experience, but this is the book where that stands out the most, where it really comes to the forefront.

I do feel compelled to warn you that this book is scarier than before, and it features more 'adult' content. Up until now, a kid as young as ten could probably read the series with no problem, but that's not true anymore. The body horror was so intense that I think a younger kid would be really bothered, when they wouldn't be before. But if you are old enough to read the series, it makes the experience all the better. It's difficult not to be caught up in the intensity of everything, just because there's so much of it. Reading this book becomes a real experience, in a way that the previous books in the series aren't.

This shows up in the plotting, in a major way. Grant's pacing is, once again, wonderfully done, so that even when he's weaving four or five different plot threads together, they all feel connected and like they're moving along quickly. Adding to this feeling is the fact that the storyline is genuinely unpredictable, enormously increasing the suspense and the tension. I'm honestly amazed at Grant's ability to create a plot with such a large scope and connect it so effectively and tensely. I don't think I've ever seen anything like this before.

Of course, the characterization helps. As with the level of horror, the characterization is amped up a notch, but in a slightly different way. There's a certain bitterness to the characters that wasn't there before. Take Orc for example; I had always found him a bit shallow and uninteresting compared to the others. But this book shows just how depressing and fucked up his life really is, to the point that it's impossible not to feel sorry for him. Or Astrid; this book has her doubting her faith some, which she held onto for so long, and what she does at the end... well, you'll see. (Because you're going to read this series. Whoever you are.) Most of the character arcs that are pushed into the forefront are like this (Dekka, marry me and live on a houseboat), and it's just as impressive as the plotting.

The writing, up until now, has been my biggest complaint about the series. It's certainly not bad, it's just been a bit inconsistent. Some scenes are as smooth and effortless as a ballet teacher demonstrating choreography for first graders, others have turns of phrase so obviously awkward that I can't imagine how they survived a single read-though, let alone a long editing process. I'd say that Plague was in the middle in that regard. In the beginning, there was a bit of awkwardness, but it didn't affect anything too much, and by the end of the book, it was completely Gone. (I think I'm going to use that pun in every review of this series that I write...)

I wouldn't recommend starting the series with this book, but fans of the series won't be disappointed, and if you're not a fan, then you should definitely remedy that immediately. It's a very strong, well-written series with an almost universal appeal.

Lies: A Gone Novel - Michael Grant

After going on a long bout of nostalgia last night involving a book that Grant co-wrote 15 years ago, I now just finished reading a book he wrote recently; Lies. And this book seals it: I fucking love this series. I love it with a fiery passion. Michael Grant is one of the best writers ever, and I eat up everything he writes. That being said, like a lot of others, I do think this was the weakest entry so far, but it doesn't matter; I still like it.

 

The biggest reason it's the weakest was the plotting. The plot here was a lot less complex than the ones in [book:Gone|18405] and [book:Hunger|2767052]; I wouldn't say it was predictable, but it wasn't unpredictable either, and it felt a lot lighter and more tame than what I'm used to from the series. That being said, was it still well-paced and well thought-out? Yes. If it came from anybody else, would I be satisfied? Of course. I just came to expect better than that from the author of the masterfully plotted Hunger. The plot here is sub-par without being bad.

 

The characterization, on the other hand, wasn't sub-par at all. In fact, I'm finding myself genuinely concerned about the fate of these characters, either because they're so well-developed or because I've spent three books with them. All of them, without exception, are marvelously well-developed and realistic. As with the last book, I have a few favorites. Like Howard, which I found a bit odd to like, since he was mostly unnoteworthy in the previous books. Dekka and Brianna are still awesome, of course. I sort of have a love-hate relationship with Astrid, but by the end of the novel, I was mostly sympathetic. And we can't forget Edilio.

 

What Grant does best with his characters, and I've talked about this a little before, is the different reactions that we see to the FAYZ, which is exactly the kind of thing I love to see. Take Mary for example: she's been taking care of the kids for over half a year, and she already had mental problems before then. People don't understand her anorexia and her bulimia, so they're being assholes about it, particularly Astrid. (This is part of the 'hate' side of my relationship with her.) Her actions throughout the book were increasingly intense and interesting; I totally understood her suicide when it all ended. Grant's portrayal of the frustration she went through was really accurate, really realistic, and it made up some of the darker aspects of the book. That's the best example I can think of off hand of the kind of character interactions I'm talking about; Mary's character arc throughout the book was really well done.

 

There is one thing that bothered me about the characters, and that was Grant's handling of religion. Now, Grant is an atheist; I knew this going into the series. When I saw Astrid in the first book portrayed as a fairly religious Catholic, I was happy that Grant chose to portray religions other than his own, and that he would make them just as well-developed as the characters with ambiguous religions. But in this book, Astrid started to become more of a caricature, what with saying that she was doing 'the Lord's will' by preventing kids from killing themselves based on Orsay's prophecies and things like that. I have to say, I was really disappointed in Grant for that. Anyway, the only other religious character in the book was Brittney, and she was batshit insane throughout the entire thing. I wanted Grant to give us a good, well-rounded portrait of religion, just like he does with everything else, but I found that sadly lacking here.

 

The other thing I found lacking was the prose. In Gone, the prose was a little rough around the edges, but that went away in Hunger. Well, now it's back; every once in a while, there was a missing quotation mark or sentence break, or there was a turn of phrase that didn't sound right. It was far from the worst writing I've ever seen, and the problems weren't too consistent, but they were annoying nonetheless.

 

So, even though this wasn't the best book Grant has ever written, I still found it to be a strong display of characterization and plotting. This series is definitely worth reading, and I'll definitely be reading Plague.

Hunger  - Michael  Grant

This is the best piece of YA commercial lit I've ever read.

Books filled with action like this, ones that are obviously marketed exclusively towards reluctant readers and boys (publishing companies typically consider the two to be one and the same) are usually books that I'm warry of, for the obvious reason that I'm not a reluctant reader. I have higher standards than that. I want character development and quality prose; I don't want to read an action movie in book form. Michael Grant's books are the exception, because not only is the action better done than most commercial lit, but everything else is, too. Grant actually cares about the quality of his prose and developing his characters. And that makes his works a lot more interesting to read, and it's the reason that his Animorphs series is so close to my heart.

In terms of plotting, this is basically a standard piece of commercial literature, only really, really good. As with Gone, there's a lot going on here. But Grant does a really good job of allowing the reader to keep up with everything, and as far as I can tell, there were no continuity errors. Moreover, the pacing was great, and the plot was constantly surprising. There are more than one really clever twists here, and I didn't predict a single one. In particular, Astrid's speculation about exactly what the Giaphage is and how it was created was very well done; plausible (okay, if by 'plausible', you mean 'with a very small basis in science'), but also really cool, and the foreshadowing for it couldn't have been better. All this made the plot really engaging and fun to read about.

But maybe 'fun' wasn't the right word, because this book was actually really dark. The villains, while well developed, are very threatening, and the Giaphage is quite scary. There are so few genuinely dark YA books these days (leaving people to have unbelievably low standards for darkness; see compliments to The Demon's Lexicon), it's nice to see a reading experience that's unique by being a little scary.

I think what makes everything so scary is that Grant has done a great job of thinking through his premise. At first glance, its purpose seems obvious: all the adults disappear and kids are developing superpowers. It seems like a lame excuse to have fight scenes without any adults to worry about. But Grant actually developed the premise, and he made sure that everything made sense. Just as much time is spent resolving problems of how the characters get food (hence the title) as there is time spent towards action sequences. There are almost no shortcuts taken here; Grant understands exactly how every aspect of his characters' survival works, and how damn unlikely it is for them all to make it (hence the darkness). And really, I think the action is a natural extension of that, especially when there's a school for the mentally ill around. I find it hard to believe that kids could rule the world and get violent superpowers without resorting to that kind of violence. The book is bettered for the survival elements and the action elements; you can't have just one or the other.

But the best thing that Grant does with his premise is that he explores it not just with plotting, but also with his characters. The scope of this book is huge (I swear, there must be at least 40 characters that we hear about on a regular basis), and almost all the characters are very well rendered. There are so many different personalities here, so many different lenses to look through, that I can't imagine anyone not finding someone they like. I personally have a lot of favorites. I really liked Lana; Grant handled her Mind Rape really really well, and her story here was even more intense than in book 1. I like Edillio of course; everybody does. Diana is also a really great example of a sympathetic villain. Dekka is really great, too; I love how Grant handled her crush on Brianna. Oh, and I can't forget Computer Jack and Bug, both insecure boys who reluctantly fight for Caine and Drake. It's all so interesting.

I also liked that the cast was diverse. Most authors would include maybe a couple minorities, even in this ginormous cast. But Grant handles diversity really, really well. There are multiple people of different ethnicities, sexualities, religions,... all sorts of different walks of life. I liked that there are some people whose status as a minority isn't a big deal (Albert, Howard, Diana), and for others, he acknowledges it and puts it into the plot (Dekka, Eddilio, Little Pete). Each time I read one of Grant's books, I promise I won't mention it again, that I've talked about it enough in other reviews, and every time, I'm impressed once more.

And of course, Grant's writing is great. Actually, I shouldn't say 'of course', because I had mixed feelings about it in book 1, but that's Gone now. Grant's writing is simple, sure, but it can be surprisingly intense at times, and it does a good job of projecting how the characters feel in comprehensible ways. Here's one of my favorite examples:

               The memories of his mom and dad, his old life, they were far away. Like                          photos in an old album. Not quite real. Someone else's memories, his pain;                    someone else's life, his loss.

               The memories of the battle - those couldn't even be called memories because                weren't memories something from the past? That day might have happened                    three months ago, but it wasn't the past to Quinn, it was right here, right now,                  always. Like a parallel life happening simultaneously with this life. He was                        driving through the night and feeling the gun buck buck buck in his hands and                seeing the coyotes and the kids, all mixed up together, all crisscrossing,                          weaving through the arcs of bullets.

               Finger off the trigger. Too close to shoot. He'd hit the kid. He couldn't do it,                    couldn't take that chance, and so the coyote had leaped, jaws open, and-

               And that wasn't long ago and far away to Quinn. It was right now. Right here.


See what I mean? It's awesome.

If I had one complaint about the book, it would be that the scope was too large. No, I never had trouble keeping track of everything, but there were some plots that felt unnecessary. For example, did we really need the plot with the Human Crew integrated into the main plot? That sub-plot was definitely realistic, and I like that it existed, but couldn't it have been introduced earlier in the book? Because it felt like a distraction, and every once in a while, I felt myself skimming because I wanted to get back to what I really cared about. Also, did we really need Mary's eating disorder? Again, I liked thatsomeone had a disease like that, something that couldn't be treated inside the FAYZ, but Mary had almost no bearing on the plot outside her bulimia, and she really felt unnecessary.

But really, that's no reason to pass this up. This is one of the very best novels that Grant has ever written, and I can't encourage you enough to read this series.

Gone  - Michael  Grant

So far, I've read three YA survival books. I've noticed that when deciding my opinion on them, there are a few factors that affect these stories very differently than others. First, the pacing isn't a factor. In particular, The Way We Fall had a very slow pace, but I didn't even notice until it was pointed out to me; the daily activities that the characters did to survive were interesting enough to pull it through. Second, a typical dramatic pattern isn't necessary - there doesn't have to be a true climax, as there wasn't inAshfall, to be good. And third, I need more detail on daily activities than normal. If I don't get that, I'm going to be bored with the plot, no matter how fast the pacing goes.

Gone had some elements of all three factors. While its pace wasn't as slow as in The Way We Fall, it was slower than what you'd find in a normal novel. It had a climax, but the rising action didn't build up to it the way you'd expect. And last but not least, daily activities were described in great detail. In my mind, this makes it a successful survival novel, and a successful novel overall.

The plot was rather interesting. Because as I said, its rising action didn't build up to the climax the way it would in a conventional novel. Grant let the focus waver, which, in my opinion, more aptly imitates real life. The characters didn't have much of a goal other than "survive", and until the end, it wasn't even "stop the villains". The action seemed rather random, but never to a fault - if it was a typical plot, it wouldn't feel as real.

But that's not to say that the plot wasn't held together. The characters' goals weren't particularly conventional, but everything was held together by a central mystery. This mystery could be a bit predictable at times (for example, I figured out the cause of the FAYZ long before any of the characters did), but overall, it was engaging enough to keep the plot from falling apart as it otherwise might've.

There was however, a lack of focus in what exactly the central plot was. There were long sections that talked about Lana's survival that were completely irrelevant to the plot until more than halfway through the book, and the day to day survival activities - while necessary - often felt tacked on when they didn't focus on the central characters.

But speaking of characters, they formed the novel's biggest strength. Not a single one of them didn't feel real or vivid, even the villains. I'd read the Animorphs series (co-written by Michael Grant, credited to K.A. Applegate, his writing partner) before now, so I expected this, but I was still impressed by Grant's ability to make me care about a character ark in a very short amount of time.

I also liked how inclusive the book was. Sam was rather poor with a missing father an and abusive stepfather, Eddilo (I have no idea if I got his name right) is an immigrant from Honduras, Little Pete is severely autistic, Mary has bulimia... I could go on. (In particular, the descriptions of bulimia were positively sickening, but accurate.)

The books weakest link, however, was the writing, particularly in the first half. But it actually felt more like an editing problem than a problem with Grant's writing. There are two reasons I say this. First, there are no large problems that crop up over and over. Instead, there are just a few instances of confusing sentences, repetition of sentence structure, fragments, ect. Each of these problems on their own wouldn't be very noteworthy, but they all combined together to form a book that felt awkwardly written at times. Second, none of these problems cropped up at all in the Animorphs series.

Overall, this is definitely a worthwhile read. If you're a fan of Grant's over works, or survival stories, or stories with well-rendered characters and great plots, you could do a lot worse than to buy this book.

Ashen Winter - Mike Mullin

I'll admit it: I expected to be disappointed. It would've been so easy to wrap up Ashfall's plot where it was - a sequel seemed unnecessary. I thought it would be sort of likeAshfall 2: The Sequel (Sequel to Ashfall). Thankfully, it managed to subvert my expectations. It wasn't as good as book 1, but it had a plot in its own right, and it completely justified its existence.

As with Ashfall, the book's greatest strength is its grittiness. The apocalypse is incredibly realistic and well thought-through; I always felt like this is what would really happen if there was an apocalypse. Which is what makes the whole thing so fucking scary. What stands out most to me is that Mullin isn't afraid to have his characters do bad things, things that are wrong. They're certainly better than the villains - they're not eating people or raping women - but they're shown doing things like torturing villains for information and threatening people with guns. That struck me as realistic; no one would really be spared from the apocalypse and Mullin shows this accurately.

The other thing that Mullin does really well in this volume is to give the book a very intelligent air. I really value intelligence in literature - I think that's one of the things that really attracted me to the works of Cassandra Clare. Anyway, Mullin makes it clear that he's done plenty of research, not just in the effects of a supervolcano, but also in things like medical health, how radios work, and... let's just go with anything and everything that comes out of Ben's mouth. Mullin is clearly an intelligent person, and I'm more than thankful that it comes through in the novel.

The characterization was just as strong as before. Alex still felt like a real person, and he still had a subtle but effective emotional journey throughout the novel. Darla is missing throughout a good portion of the novel, and I liked that we really get to see Alex try to get her back, and see what he is without her and how he'll survive. We also meet two new characters, Alyssa and Ben - both are just as well developed as Alex and Darla. Ben felt this way in particular, only making me more thankful for writers like Mullin. Not only is it an autistic character in a post-apocalyptic situation, but it's a well rendered one.

Alex's characterization in particular was helped by the prose. Mullin's prose is strong and effective, and Alex is given a believable and authentic voice. It's never awkward, and it more than gets the job done. The one problem I had was the way that every single fucking chapter ended with a cliffhanger, almost without exception. It almost reminded me of an MG novel - it was incredibly cheesy and annoying. But other than that, it was great.

I really can't recommend this series enough. It's rare that I give two books in a series 5 stars right in a row - this is one of those rare cases. Anyone that likes post-apocalyptic novels, or anyone just looking for a really good story should definitely give this novel a try.

Ashfall - Mike Mullin

(This is one of many of my reviews that I've re-written to prevent people from seeing how bad I sucked six months ago.)

Reasons to read this book:
Michael Grant likes it.
It features a male protagonist.
It is a post-apocalyptic story.
It's freaking awesome.

This is one of the most realistic post-apocalyptic books I've ever read. The entire thing was obviously very well researched, and Mullin does an excellent job of considering how people in an apocalypse would really act. In terms of how the characters survive, there are almost no shortcuts taken; at any given point in the story, it was a huge struggle for Alex and Darla to get food, water, and shelter. And really, isn't that the point of a survival story? Isn't that how they become scary, by potentially taking away the things we truly need to survive? Of course it is. Mullin definitely realizes this the way I do, and I think that's what really makes the book.

Take, for example, the central conflict. Alex is in his house alone when the super-volcano erupts. His parents have just left for a relative's house, leaving him home alone in his house. So, naturally, it's a bit of a problem for him that his parents are gone. He immediately goes on a long (long) journey to find them in the next state over, completely aware that it's a terrible idea. So, not only does he have to find food and water, but he has to keep it with him, and he has to find a different shelter each night. Not only that, but he doesn't have his parents to help him; for most of the book, it's just him and Darla. As I said before, there aren't very many shortcuts here; Alex is hungry, thirsty, and exhausted constantly throughout the novel. Not only that, but food doesn't conveniently jump onto his lap begging to be eaten (funny an image as that is). Mullin is willing to put Alex through real effort to make him survive - hence the survival genre. You'd be surprised by how many books make it easy for their characters, make survival secondary to their main plot. (Cough, And All the Stars, cough. Not that I didn't enjoy it anyway.) That's not the case here - the survival and the plot are essentially one and the same.

A lot of readers found Alex's emotional journey lacking. I think that it was a little more subtle than most, but that it was still well done. Alex does have some distance from the reader, because he's dealing with abnormal events. You can see in the things he does - rather than the things he says, which is what makes the arc so subtle - that he really is made insecure by what's going on. Why else would he look for his parents, rather than wait for them to find him or some other form of help? Why else would he stick so closely to Darla, rather than try to journey on his own? Mullin really has considered the emotional ramifications of an apocalypse, and although his portrayal of that is handled a bit differently than others, he's certainly done it. It's almost as if he's been through a disaster himself; the way he describes it - both the physical and the emotional elements - are stunningly accurate.

But this isn't a book that's obsessed with its concept. In a lot of books that have a unique premise (not that this premise is particularly unique, but shut up and let me make my point. I SAID SHUT UP! :), the premise will become everything, consuming things like plotting and character development. The best example I can think of off-hand is the short story A Thousand Flowers by Margo Lanagan from the anthologyZombies vs. Unicorns. The premise is very unique (and, um, horrifying), but if you don't find it interesting, the story is completely boring.

That's not what happens here. Granted, "I'm going to show the physical and emotional ramifications of a super-volcano eruption." isn't a bad premise to become obsessed with, but if you're unbearably bored by apocalypses, you're insane there's always Darla. Darla is usually cited (and I agree) as the more engaging character between her and Alex. But what I'm really talking about when I say that she's the remedy to your boredom with post-apocalyptic stories (God, that sentence was awful. Anyone has a better way to phrase that, feel free to let me know.) is that she has a wonderfully done romance with Alex. It's not going to consume everything*, but what we get of it works. It's not overly-intense, it's slow burning, and it comes organically, both through the story and the characters. There are also little bits of truth in the romances of teenagers scattered throughout the book. All this means that it doesn't matter if you don't like survival stories - I'm still requiring you to read this.

That being said, Mullin's prose leaves a little to be desired. Don't get me wrong, Alex's voice is believably rendered (I was never bothered by the use of big words), and it's mostly fine, but towards the end, there are a few scenes that honestly make no sense at all in the way they're described. It's too bad, because other than that, the action scenes were really good, but they're occasionally described in a way that made them confusing. But other than that, Mullin's writing is great; Alex's voice was believable, and there weren't any obvious grammatical slip-ups.

This is one of my very favorite books of all time. I love survival stories, I love emotional stories, and this one is both. I really hope you love it just as much as I do, because as I said earlier, you are required to read it.

*Imagine that! A seriously threatening situation where the romance is the focus! It would be laughable if it didn't describe most of YA.

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane (The Underland Chronicles, Book 2) - Suzanne  Collins

Here we are, at book two in the Underland Chronicles, Suzanne Collin's MG series published before The Hunger Games. General consensus seems to be that The Hunger Games was far better, and while I agree that this wasn't as good, it's still certainly a worthwhile read, underrated among Suzanne Collins fans.

The biggest reason being that Collins's wonderful plotting skill is on display once again. While the adventures occasionally felt episodic, the pacing was fast and consistent, an important feature of MG fantasy. It's also genuinely unpredictable, which is pretty rare for MG, since kids are so bad at predicting things. But the plot here is constantly surprising, with a great prophecy twist (and another twist that I'd call one of the best I've ever seen), a plot that manages to be simple but still interesting.

I suppose it works so well for the same reason The Hunger Games worked so well: Gregor is a nice hero to see the Underland from. He could be a bit annoying at times, but his characterization remained strong, and I can see him growing as the series goes along. The side characters aren't quite as consistent. Some of them were just as interesting as Gregor - of particular note is Ares, whose banishment is realistically handled, which makes him sympathetic. But some of the other characters were... not so interesting, to say the least. Like the fireflies that we meet, for example - their only purpose seemed to be to annoy everyone, the audience included.

As with the first book, the writing was pretty good, except for the fact that Collins tries to be voicey with the third person, which I've always found annoying and never found effective. It's not constant, and Gregor's voice doesn't exactly jump out at you, but it still feels out of place in the third-person narration. But other than that, Collins's prose is strong and well-written. It won't blow you off your feet, but it carries the story quite well, and it's mostly effective.

I'm finding that I have the same issues and merits that I had with the first book, although I'd say that I like this one better. I suspect that the entire series will be enjoyable as this one, which is why I'm going to go ahead and recommend reading, even after just two books. It's no Hunger Games, but it's well-written and well-plotted. That's more than I can say about a lot of other books.

Gregor the Overlander  - Suzanne  Collins

This book was a landmark for me in a couple different ways. First and foremost, it was written by Suzanne Collins, who, of course, wrote The Hunger Games. You have to understand - The Hunger Games was the first YA book I ever read. It's what really sealed my love for the genre. I enjoyed Catching Fire almost as much, but it wasMockingjay that really blew me away. Its unrelenting intensity and its message about war... I'd never read anything like it. It was the first book I remember reflecting upon and thinking, "This is an honest picture of a set of experiences, and that scares the shit out of me."

So, obviously, I am in love with Suzanne Collins. The book was also a landmark in that it was the first middle-grade book I've read in two years, but the first reason was the main one. That being said, was it as good as The Hunger Games? Hell no. This book's characters weren't as well-defined, and the social commentary that made The Hunger Games special was completely absent. 

Nevertheless, it was a strong middle-grade novel. It was nostalgic for me in its tone - about once every chapter, I'd run into a line and I'd think: "That's exactly the kind of the thing Loor [from the Pendragon series] would say," or "I read something kind of like this in The Stairway to Droon." The tone was the main reason. It was fantasy in exactly the way I used to love - full of unpredictable magic with a well-defined world, and, of course, tons of action. Anyone who read middle-grade in the era that I read it in (i.e. anywhere from 1997-2009) will feel right at home with this book - I certainly did.

The writing was easily the best part. Even if you didn't like the writing in The Hunger Games, I think you'd find it hard to complain about this. It was mildly fancy (less so than The Hunger Games, since this was written for kids), but I don't see how you could find it choppy, and it wasn't nearly as sparse as it could've been. The book was well-written, and comprehensible for kids, which is the best combination possible.

The only problem I had with the writing is that every once in a while, Collins seemed to suddenly remember that she was writing for kids, and she would throw in some kind of slang word that made the writing feel sort of artificial. It doesn't help that the writing is in third-person, which would be a great excuse to not do that. But the problem was an occasional one, and it didn't detract from the overall feel that I got from the book.

The worldbuilding was also quite good. The Underland was handled logically and consistently, and most elements of a society were considered. There was also some lovely creativity in terms of the culture of the Unerlanders, the Spinners (spiders), the Fliers (bats), ect. The world felt just as real as Panem, but I think that Collins's creation of it was more inventive than the creation of Panem was. There's a lot of unique aspects to like in this world.

The plot wasn't quite as good. This was an epic fantasy, which took me by surprise, but a good number of elements were there. Our hero is fated to go on a quest because of an ancient prophecy, among talking animals including cockroaches, bats, and Always Chaotic Evil rats*. Up until now, I've always assumed that epic fantasy wasn't for me, and after reading this, I have to say... yep, pretty much. The plot was fine in terms of pacing (for once - everything I've been reading lately seems to have pacing problems) and being thought out, but I was never truly engaged and immersed in it - it didn't offer me anything new that would serve as a reason two.

The characters were also a bit of a mixed bag. Gregor was a realistic eleven year-old, with a lot of details that made him more real. Moreover, I have to applaud Collins formaking him eleven. Even as a kid, I thought it was ridiculous that authors insisted on writing heroes that were double the audience's age. That's not the case here - Gregor will certainly be believable for both the target audience and some older readers as well. (Incidentally, this was my first time reading a book with a hero that was younger than me. The experience wasn't nearly as jarring as I thought it would be.)

The other characters were a bit more mixed. Like Gregor, Boots was well-drawn, with lots of little details to make her more real. Ripred was a nice subversion of Always Chaotic Evil, and Luxa was a great example of what can happen when a person loses everything they hold dear. But everyone else really blended together in my mind. I could barely give you a list of all the characters that made appearances, let alone give you descriptions of their personalities. This is a huge change from The Hunger Games, where all the tributes were easy to keep track of, despite their vast numbers.

But overall, this was still a strong middle-grade novel. Gregor is a relatable hero, the writing is great, and the world is believable. Any middle-grade audience, as well as some older readers, will definitely appreciate this book - I know I did.

*The Always Chaotic Evil was subverted, of course, but it was still present for a good 200 pages.

Mockingjay - Collins Suzanne

So. This wasn't a review that was originally going to exist, but I'm sick of seeing negative reviews for this book and not having my thoughts together enough to debate with them. So here it is: my review of Mockingjay. And I apologize in advance if this seems more like a debate against negative reviews than a review in itself; I'm not too sure if I can avoid it.

 

This was the best book of the trilogy, and among four or five of my all-time favorites. I couldn't imagine a better conclusion to the series, a better ending to Katniss's story. With this book, Collins proves that not only does she have a great handle on plotting and character interactions, but also a great handle of the effects that war has on a person, and the things that people do in a war like this.

 

Namely, they go insane. Well, not all of them, but Katniss very obviously had PTSD. And how could she not? How could she go through multiple hunger games, see all that she's seen, and not get some sort of mental problem? I wouldn't buy it. So no, Katniss is not going to step up to the plate as everyone expects her to and shoot her enemies like a superhero. She was a real person before now; why would Colins sacrifice that for the sake of action? The Hunger Games was, in spite of its premise, never a true action story, and I wouldn't want it to be. The theme of the story up until now is how wrong it is to watch violence as entertainment, so by expecting Katniss to go through everything without getting PTSD, expecting her to be the Mockingjay when District 13 needs her, you're completely missing the theme of the trilogy. You're expecting Katniss to do what an action hero would do. Yes, Katniss had PTSD and probably other mental problems; the accuracy in how it's portrayed is astounding. Katniss always felt like a real person to me, but in this novel, I found myself psychoanalyzing her, seeing how different experiences led her to feel different ways. And it worked; no matter how hopeless and fucked up her emotions and thoughts were, Katniss and her PTSD were very real in this story.

 

As you might expect, this creates a lot of intensity. Like, a lot of intensity. As with book 1, the plot moves at a brisk pace, but here, Katniss's mental state keeps everything feeling even tighter than before, so that even when there was no action, the stakes felt high. I don't think I've ever read anything this intense, anything that makes me want to turn the page and find out what happens next more. And towards the end, I was even a little scared. I do want to emphasize; despite what I've said, exciting isn't really the right word for this book. It's intense, sure, but it's not exhilarating, because Katniss's mental state is a constant reminder that it <i>shouldn't</i> be. She makes me feel guilty for talking about how good the plotting was, because I should be horrified that this happens to real people, that people have to go through this. And I was. But the pacing was still fast, the story still tight and intense, to the point where even as I felt guilty, I knew that I needed to know what came next.

 

(Not to mention seeing [spoiler]Peeta's hijacking.[/spoiler] Seriously, that made everything so much more interesting and intense.)

 

And all this led up to a theme. Stated simply, "This is what happens in wars. People die, people get mental diseases, people lose loved ones. How can you put people through that if it's not necessary?" And it as beyond effective. Seeing what happens to Katniss and Peeta and [spoiler]Prim[/spoiler], it did something to me that books rarely can. It reminds me of Animorphs, where Applegrant made me care about the characters, and then put them through hell in the final arc, making me feel like I lost a loved one when Rachel died. This did something similar, except it's so much more intense. I know that some people had a problem with the way [spoiler]Finnick's[/spoiler] death was handled, the way it happened and everyone moved on. I honestly think that by doing this, Collins twisted the knife even further than if everyone mourned him like crazy, because they didn't care anymore. One of their close friends had died, and they'd been through so much that they just couldn't give a shit anymore. For me, it was less that Collins forgot to have the characters mourn and more that she decided it wouldn't be realistic for her characters to put attention to just that one death after so many others.

And all this convinced me: we can't put people through this unless we have to. It's just not worth it. Seeing what these characters go through is genuinely moving in exactly the way Collins wanted it to be. I now feel like I've seen a war, gone through the horrors of it, because everything is so realistic. It's not an experience that I want to recreate, and it's not an experience I want others to go through.

 

It's that kind of book, in other words, the kind that blends a psychological thriller with a classic action story, much like the works of Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant. In this manner, Mockingjay was one of the most effective books I've ever read. It was emotionally effecting on an extreme level, the way almost nothing else is. Collins kept me turning pages with her plot, and she kept me crying with her character interactions, which as I explained, were expertly handled. I suppose I can see why some people don't like this, because it is really scary. I think that people don't want to feel like this, not to feel like things like this go on in real life, and that makes them hate it. That's not to say that there aren't other legitimate reasons for disliking the book, but I think that's a big one for a lot of people. But I love it; I need it. I need a reminder that there are other experiences than my own and the typical YA one. And this book reminds me of that in a way that so few books have, except that by making Katniss and Peeta and Gale such realistic people, it feels like my experience again. Not to mention the way I felt when [spoiler]Prim died.[/spoiler] It feels like I went crazy with them, which may explain the incoherency of this review.

 

But yes, this isn't the typical YA experience. The love triangle set up in the first two books doesn't get a whole lot of attention. And really, why the hell would people going through a war, who might die at any minute, worry about who they're going to end up with? There's too much going on for more than a little attention to the love triangle to feel right, making this one of the best love triangles I've ever seen; it was handled realistically. What little attention it did get felt like real people interacting in this way (particularly when Gale talked about it... oh, now I made myself sad). That's all I need; I wouldn't want Collins to put too much attention to it.

 

There was the occasional problem. The biggest one was that Collins occasionally stopped the story to explain things that would've been better left a mystery, the biggest example being the page dedicated to the meaning of the Hanging Tree song. But that's the only real flaw I can find. Other than that, Collin's writing is still amazingly crafted. She really knows how to write, and it shows.

 

This is one of the best books I've ever read, so good that I can barely write a coherent review of it (hence the above). I'm unlikely to convince anyone to read it that hasn't read it already, but if you're having second thoughts, don't. This book is really, really good, and it deserves to be read.

Clockwork Princess - Cassandra Clare

Unmarked spoilers for Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince follow.

 

So, here it is. The final book of the Infernal Devices Trilogy. The end of one of only two YA series that I've ever finished (the other one being The Hunger Games). And... it was okay? It could've been worse? Everyone was promising something gut-wrenching, something heartbreaking, something huge, and I don't really think I ever got that. As with City of Glass, Clare has made a really good buildup to a really disappointing finale.

 

There were things I liked. Plenty of them, actually. The thing that comes immediately to mind is Clare's great prose. The prose associates itself with the era its written in while still being comprehensible to today's readers, and in that regard, it couldn't have been better. It also had some very nice flourishes, it flowed really well, and some of it was just downright beautiful. There is a slight lack of editing that I never noticed before, most memorably when a character is referred to by the wrong name. But it was a small issue; for the most part, Clare's writing is on par with her typical level of quality.

 

But my feelings about the rest of the book are a lot more conflicted. The biggest problem I can think of off hand is Clare's handling of the love triangle. In Clockwork Prince, it was awesome. I wanted so badly to think that after the reveal of Will's curse, that he wasn't actually a jackass, coupled with Jem's proposal... I wanted so badly to think that Clare knew what she was doing, where this all was going.

 

I didn't get that reassurance.

 

Upon reading the second half of the book, I knew right away that I was wrong; that Clare didn't know how to resolve this, that she didn't know what she was doing. Instead, my feelings are one big [spoiler]beam of disappointment. WHY THE FUCK WOULD WILL AND TESSA DO IT AFTER JEM DIED? No. Fuck no. I simply cannot get passed that, which is why I'm breaking my formal streak for this paragraph. Tessa had just found out that her fiance had died, Will was still getting over the loss of his Parabatai, WHY THE FUCK WOULD THEY BETRAY HIM LIKE THAT SO IMMEDIATELY? That is the opposite of slow-burning, that is the opposite of realistic development, that is the opposite of LOGIC. I was also a bit disappointed that Tessa didn't have to chose between Will and Jem; of course she got a long life with both. I was really looking forward to how Clare would handle the choice, especially considering Jem's death, but to have him not actually die, to have him be able to be with Tessa after Will's death... it was all a cop-out.[/spoiler]

 

The interactions of the secondary characters were far better written, to the point where I wanted them to be the main characters instead of Will and Jem and Tessa. In particular, I enjoyed Cecily, Will's sister. Her coming to terms with the Shadowhunters, with the loss of Will's innocence... it was all beautifully done. I also liked the Lightwood brothers, Gabriel in particular; it makes me feel bad for pinning him as an asshole back in Clockwork Angel. All of them were just as well-developed as the leads (minus the still relatively-underdeveloped Tessa), and I'm glad that Clare does feel the need to flesh out her minor characters; it's something that not a whole lot of authors do. Moreover, the side characters' interactions were far better handled, particularly in the second half. (For the first half, the love triangle actually wasn't that bad, if not a little repetitive.) And yes, there are some similarities to characters from The Mortal Instruments (particularly in Sophie being like Maia), but it's a much smaller issue here.

 

In terms of plotting... this book was a massive failure for me. For the first half, the pacing was unbelievably slow. Granted, Clare's books have never been incredibly fast, but she normally puts the slow pacing to good use, in terms of character development and the like. That's not the case here, to say the least. In the first half, even less happened than the normal Clare-standard, and the character interactions got a little repetitive after a while. Once the second half started, it was better, in terms of pacing, but things relied largely on characters (namely Will) acting hugely deviant from their personalities, and the ending was an enormous anti-climax.

 

The ending was... better than I expected, I'll say that. And up until the epilogue, I actually thought I'd be really satisfied with it. City of Glass was a happy ending in almost every way possible; other than <spoiler>Max's death</spoiler>, there were no sacrifices made, nothing standing in the way of the happily ever after. That didn't appear to be the case here.

Sure, Jem was alive (via dues ex machina cop-out), but he was a Silent Brother; Will and Tessa could only see him once a year. Plus, Will would die, eventually, and Tessa never would.

(show spoiler)

 This would've been a wonderful ending. Phenomenal. I would've gotten a sense of happiness, but not everything was perfect; as with real life, there were sacrifices. But then the epilogue came.

Through an even bigger dues ex machina cop-out than before, Jem is no longer a Silent Brother. How? Why? Don't ask me. All I know is that NOW TESSA GETS TO LIVE WITH HIM, TOO, HOORAY! And, we're back to City of Glass level ridiculously happy ending; Tessa gets MORE HAPPINESS, NOTHING ELSE IS GOING WRONG! ISN'T HER LIFE GREAT?

 

On a more serious note, I think that the fact that the ending was so happy in that way (Tessa getting to be with both boys without having to chose, almost nobody dying, ect.) says a lot about the emotional goals of the series, and Clare's writing as a whole. With this book, Clare has made it abundantly clear that her books are about making you happy. Everyone survives! Everyone gets what they want, except the villains; they're too dead to care! There's nothing wrong with happiness, there's nothing wrong with wish-fulfillment, but it has to come organically. This wasn't organic. This was cop-out to prevent the readers from feeling too much unhappiness. And throughout the book, Clare never seems to want us to feel unhappy. There's not a sad moment that wasn't more than equalized by a happy one later. No where is this more apparent than in Jem's death; other than Will, we don't get to see anyone grieve him, we don't see the death itself, and - Surprise! - he's not actually dead. There was no grief, none of the bad emotions that should've accompanied the death of a lead. It was all about happiness, even sacrificing logic for it. We're supposed to ignore how unlikely it all is and just see that it's happy and be done with it. This isn't something that sits well with me, not something that I can accept.

(show spoiler)

 

 

There was one other thing that I liked though, and if not for this, I wouldn't be able to give the book a third star: the worldbuilding. Not just the Shadowhunter world, but also London. It really came to life for me, as it did in the first two books. I could see the smog, feel the snow, see the Blackfair's Bridge. Clare's obviously done an enormous amount of research, and the book feels just as intelligent as the ones that came before it. Clare is clearly an intelligent, talented author, whatever misgivings I might have about her plotting and endings.

 

But overall, this book was pretty disappointing. It had its good elements, sure, but overall... I felt disappointment. Clockwork Prince was just <i>so promising</i>, and this just didn't live up to it. At all. I wish that I could give this a positive rating, I wish that this was the book that Clockwork Prince promised us, but it's not. I'll never get that book.

 

(See, Clare? In real life, NOT EVERYTHING TURNS OUT OKAY IN THE END. This didn't.)

Clockwork Prince (Infernal Devices) - Cassandra Clare

An excellent, fufilling read for anyone who likes the Mortal Instruments trilogy seriesuniverse. First off, the prose, because I mentioned it in almost every status update I made. It is awesome. It is exactly what a Cassandra Clare book should read like. UnlikeClockwork Angel, which was written basically the same as a normal attempt with only a few attempts to sound like it was written for the era it was about, this prose makes you constantly aware of the era, and I mean that in a good way. It creates a mood that other books would kill for; it's elegant, to say the first word that comes to mind when I think about it. While it's not actually written in the language of the era (The Phantom of the Opera, written in 1910, is much less comprehensible than this language), it does associate itself with the 19th century. This created more enthusiasm for it than I've ever had for almost any prose I've ever read.

The characterization worked well, too. Will's Jaceness was entirely subverted, Jem became less Alec-like, and Sophie becomes less like Maia. Tessa remains the only carbon copy left in the series, and she's done a lot better here than in The Mortal Instruments. Charlotte and Henry also get some nice character development, the latter in particular. While the characterization was a bit of a mess in Clockwork Angel, it works quite well here.

My main stumbling point with this book was the plot. It sits in the background, much like it does in City of Lost Souls, but here, it feels like there should be more of a plot. The main reason for this is that the pace went very slow (until the end where it suddenly sped up.) If the characters weren't constantly talking about the plot, it would've worked, but they do make these references, even in scenes that are so obviously about character development alone that I wouldn't have been disappointed if they'd left out the plot altogether. Come to think of it, that's a lot of what made City of Lost Souls so successful.

But in a book like this, the plot is a minor thing, and in spite of the problems it may have, this book is still worth 5 stars. It's a huge improvement from Clockwork Angel. Fans who lost faith after City of Glass, I urge you, give this a try. You won't regret it.

City of Bones  - Cassandra Clare

If you've been following the YA world with any attention at all, you probably know this by now: Cassandra Clare has a horrible reputation. It seems you can't go two feet without running into criticisms of her book. It was badly written. The pacing was slow. Clary was a Mary Sue. Clare is a plagiarist. Yet, I love this series.* But since coming to GoodReads, I've been wondering if it's okay to like it so much. Yes, I know how ridiculous the idea of an opinion being 'okay' to have seems, but there were some legitimate complaints from well-written reviews that were somewhat hard to ignore.

So I feel the need to defend the series. Even with its tons and tons of fans, I feel like a black sheep for liking it, so I'm going to write a review expressing my opinion of this book, to myself if no one else. I don't expect to convince a single person that the book is good, and that's okay. Reviewing isn't about convincing someone of your opinion; it's about showing people a different perspective of a book, and appealing to people who haven't read it but might.

People say that Clary is a Mary Sue. I won't debate this. Clary is easily the worst character in the piece. Now, don't get me wrong, she's far better than the average Mary Sue; she has hobbies, she actually does things, and she can think like a normal person. But I still never felt much of a real... personality behind her. Maybe Clare wasn't trying to write a protagonist who you can insert yourself into, a-la-(god forbid) Bella, but it came off that way.

That being said, no, I didn't think she was stupid. I mean, yes, she did some things in this book that weren't too bright, but haven't you? You've never done anything impulsive that you later regretted? You've never done anything stupid that got you in trouble? Of course you have. So why should you expect anything different from characters in books? When I hear criticisms that Clary was stupid, it reminds me of criticisms that a character is unlikable: both rely on a (subconscious, usually) assumption that characters in books should be perfect. They shouldn't; they should be real. It would be odd if Clary never made any mistakes, and Clare shows this accurately.

However, even if Clary didn't have a good personality for us to look through, everyone else did. In fact, the cast of side characters was some of the strongest I've ever read. Without exception, every one of them had an interesting character arc, seamlessly woven into the main one. It almost feels like Clare doesn't even have to try to establish characters; from their first sentence, I felt like I already had a good idea of who they are. (In a "Clare is good at establishing characters very fast way", not in a "this is a character I've seen before" way.)

People say that Jace is an asshole. I will debate this one. Because actually, I really appreciated what Clare did with Jace, and she did it very effectively. Clare was showing the effects of abuse, how one uses witty and - yes - sometimes rude and cruel remarks to cover up the pain. And, like a lot of this book, it was done flawlessly. By the end of this book, I completely understood why Jace acted the way he did. And he's a hell of a lot better than the Edwards and the Daniels of the literary world; Edward had no excuse to be an asshole, and Daniel's excuse was purely one of stupidity. Jace, on the other hand, had an excuse that didn't come from the paranormal aspects of the book, but rather from mundane, real experiences that people go through. And besides, I never got the impression that it was his rudeness that made him attractive to Clary; it was the rest of his personality, it was that he made Clary laugh and that he was brave and intelligent and now I'm fangirling and I'm a fucking guy and also I don't fangirl someone please stop me before I make this sentence 300 words long and no one ever takes my reviews seriously again.

But anyway. I also must discuss the side characters. Such as Simon. I can really empathize with him; the feeling of being ignored, the feeling that you'll never be liked because you're so geeky, the feeling that ultimately, you're not good enough for the things you want. Once again, this is something that real people go through, and it makes sense for him to feel the way he does. He's incredibly sympathetic, and he's probably my favorite character.

I could write a paragraph on everyone, but I have to move onto other things, so I'll keep my opinions on the other characters brief. Magnus (who we don't see much of in this one) was such a personality, and he was hilarious. Incredibly hilarious. Isabelle was a great subversion of the "all the other girls in the paranormal romance are bitches/sluts"; it may seem that way at first, but as with everyone else in this story, Isabelle has a very deep character arc and a real personality. And I'll spoil the book slightly by saying that by the end of the story, Clary would never think of Isabelle as a slut again. But anyway. Alec. Oh, Alec. Alec is one of the most realistic gay characters I've ever read about. I'm not sure how to describe why Alec is so well-written, so just read this article, written by author Phoebe North. Alec is one of the few people I've read who fits what Phoebe seems to want: someone whose identity as a homosexual is important to him and affects him, but doesn't overcome everything. Thank you, Clare, for that.**

So, I think I can move on now. Every character had a poignant and compelling personality and arc, and it's so rare in popular books that I have to show my appreciation. There were a couple issues (Simon was the only one that handled the love triangle realistically, and of course, Clary existed), but it was largely awesome.

As for plotting. Yes, the pace was slow. I won't deny that. But that's because this is as much about the characters as the plot. It's not entirely character driven, like This is Not a Test or The Way We Fall, but the characters are still important. But that's not to say that there wasn't a plot, because there was. In fact, in the sections that focused on the plot, I found it very engaging and interesting. Clare has clearly planned everything out very, very well, and it's always entertaining to read about. So, yes, the pacing was slow, but I never even noticed, because of the characters, and because Clare wrote a good plot anyway. The only real issue is that there wasn't a whole lot of tension to the end. Other than that, it's great.

And now, I must discuss plagiarism.

It's something I hoped I could avoid, but I can't. The accusations of Clare's plagiarism of Harry Potter are too important to ignore, and I have to acknowledge them.

I don't think this book is plagiarized. Yes, it shares some similarities to Harry Potter, but that's inevitable. There is no such thing as a book that came completely out of a void, different from everything before it. And of course there's going to be some inspiration from Harry Potter; Clare wrote fan fiction for it. I'm aware of the plagiarism incident in the said fan fic, and that isn't okay. But I think Clare has learned her lesson since then, and if not for that incident, I don't think anyone would see plagiarism here. And besides, Harry Potter didn't invent the idea of a normal kid being introduced to a paranormal world, nor the character who's rude because of abuse. Those elements were around before, and Harry Potter shouldn't have a trademark on them just because Rowling used them.

Last but not least, I'll discuss the writing. People say Clare has a problem with similes. I won't debate this. Not all of them were horrible, but there were too many of them, and a lot of them... were horrible. But that's not the only element of Clare's writing, and I actually found the writing to be wonderful. The third-person narration, combined with the abundant descriptions and the sparse prose, give the book an old-fashioned feel, meshing perfectly with the book's tone. It's almost never awkward, and it's always lush and engaging. Clare makes it easy for us to get a mental image of everyone and everything, in a way that books rarely do.

Oh, and one thing I forgot: the dialogue. It was hilarious. Clare is one of the funniest writers I've ever read, and her wit is completely unmatched. Nevertheless, the dialogue was still believable; I could believe that Jace was the kind of person to come up with witty remarks on the spot, or maybe even to rehearse them beforehand. And even if it wasn't believable, I'd still forgive the comedy parts because HILARITY!

I feel better now. I feel better now that I've sufficiently defended my opinion of the book. Now that I've gotten the words on paper, I feel like it's 'okay' to enjoy it, because I can defend my opinion with all I've got now. I couldn't do that before I wrote this review. So, you've probably long since made a decision on whether or not to read this book, but if you haven't, I'd strongly advise reading it. Do it. Now.

* Yes, even the books that came after City of Glass. Maybe it's because I thought City of Glass was easily the worst book of the series, so I didn't mind it not being the ending. Maybe it's because I went into the series knowing there would be more than three books, so it wasn't a surprise. Or maybe I just find them genuinely good. Is that an issue?

** Incidentally, if I had to defend claims that Clare was only in the business for the money, I'd simply point to that.*** In this day and age, would Clare really take a risk on writing such a non-stereotyped gay character if she was in it for the money? Of course not. I wish it wasn't true, but I still must say it: that would be stupid. But Clare did it anyway, which is even more of why I appreciate it.

*** That's not to deny that some of the later stuff wasn't written for the money, because I'm aware that it was. I'm just saying that this one wasn't.

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