Booknotized

A place to think, reflect, and talk (mostly to myself) about books I love…and a few that I don't.

Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer January 9, 2012

 
Publisher: Macmillan
Series: Lunar Chronicles (Book 1)
Age Group: YA (totally clean)
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Pages: 400
Source: NetGalley and Giveaway from Amanda at Diary of a Book Addict
Genre: Scifi + Post-Apocalyptic
Rating Breakdown: Idea 5+★; Execution 3+★
 

★★★★

Cinder is a cyborg—which in her society means barely human. Somewhere in a past she can’t remember, there was an accident that left her parentless and a surgery that gave her a foot and a hand she doesn’t want, but can’t live without. Her one glimmer of hope came in the form of a scientist from the Eastern commonwealth—a conglomerate of countries united by the emperor sometime after the devastating WW4—but was dashed before she even know about him, when he died of the Letumosis epidemic.
 
Now, stuck with a stepmother who hates her, working as a mechanic to pay bills that aren’t her own, in a country swept by plague and threatened by war from the psychotic Lunar queen, Cinder only dreams of escape.
 
And, then the Prince walks in.
 
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First off, you must read this book. It’s great. You’ll enjoy it, I guarantee. It’s overall tightly written, fast paced, and unique. I was drawn to the cover at first sight and couldn’t put it down!
 
But, as a connoisseur (hah!) I am truly on the fence about it. As a reviewer, I feel compelled to tell the whole truth and nothing but. So, while on the one hand it was a thrilling read, it has its flaws.
 
I love the concept—very original. Instead of a technologically backwards future of the sort we’re used to seeing in today’s post-apocalyptic or dystopian novels, this one is very techno-savvy. Reminded me of Westerfeld’s The Uglies in its tenor. Hover cars are all the rage, and human beings survive historically fatal or utterly disfiguring injuries because of extreme advances in surgical prosthetics.
 
Fairly logically-advanced versions of the internet, computers, and televisions are the main form of communication and entertainment, which helps tie nicely into the present-day world.
 
The commonwealth, and its emperor are situated in Asia, in a city called New Beijing, making this the second book to allude to fears of China’s rise to world power. However, unlike some, this book doesn’t see that as a bad thing. The Emperor and his family are just, fair rulers, and peacefully cohabitate with other ruling bodies—except those on the moon (yup!).
 
Instead of climate change, and/or oil shortage being the cause of the apocalypse (both of which have been almost overdone these days…), it’s international conflict that spawned both destruction and peace between Earthen countries. Unchecked greed and power hunger is the reason for the latest threat from the mutated inhabitants of the moon—and their mind-controlling queen.
 
Up until that point, everything was great. But, the mind control was where the book started to get under my skin. I found it to be too convenient, cheesy, inconsistently implemented, and ineffective.
 
Similarly, though I appreciated the attempt to align this with the original Cinderella story, a few of the plot elements at the end were too forced. This is a problem I have with a lot of fairytale re-imaginings: they don’t seem to realize you can pick and choose which elements to include—and even then, you can bend them a little to fit your setting. This book tried too hard to get them all in…and didn’t bend or wield them skillfully enough to fit. For one, the “carriage” (an old rusted out automobile) was a potentially really intriguing twist that just didn’t deliver and faded out as abruptly as it appeared. More importantly, however, the ball was just totally out of place, in my mind. Not only was it a virtual impossibility (all the citizens of one major city invited at once?), but then, why such an outdated ritual in full 17th century style was the one tradition that held over from the old to such a futuristic world wasn’t explained. It wasn’t the right scene for the confrontation, and as a result, the final scenes were just not cathartic enough.
 
As for characters, the evil queen wasn’t very believable—her dialogue made me chuckle at some points. And, last but not least, Cinder just wasn’t a decisive or confident enough character for my taste. Why she waited so long to work on the Prince’s robot—meanwhile the dropped hints and reminders of its import were abundant—I just couldn’t figure out. And her two obsessions—her own imperfection and escape—were overdone to the point of threatening the story not only plot-wise, but overall by making her slightly annoying.
 
That said, however, I really enjoyed the concept and the world, and will definitely be looking out for book 2—which I hope will benefit from its freedom from the original story and license to do fantastic things with a fantastic concept.

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Book Review: Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien November 7, 2011

Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Release Date: March 30, 2010
Series: Birthmarked Trilogy
Age Group: solid YA (mild graphic violence/birth scenes)
Pages: 368
Rating: Idea 4.5★; Execution 4.5★
Genre: dystopia

★★★★1/2

Being a midwife is never an easy job—things happen, babies are stillborn, women bleed to death—but at least most of the time it goes well. Mother is reunited with the soft bundle she has loved and nurtured for 9 long months…and will for the rest of her life.

Unless, of course, you live outside the wall. There, conditions are harsh, and babies—like water—are rationed, a practice 16-year-old, brand-new midwife Gaia goes along with…because she must. That is, until her mother and father are suddenly taken prisoner, and Gaia finds she can no longer abide by the unjust laws of the Enclave. She must get them out, even if it costs her life.

Where they will go afterward, no one knows. The settlement has been carved from the arid, post-apocalyptic wasteland of (now) Unlake Superior—and it stretches almost beyond the reach of legend.

And then, of course, there’s the question of Leon and his dangerous interest in her. Yes, what on earth is to be done about Leon (and her smoldering interesting in him)…?
 
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For starters, I enjoyed this book immensely, and I cannot wait to get my hands on Prized, the sequel—out tomorrow, Nov. 8.

I was hooked on page one, which drops the reader wholly and without hesitation or apology into an intense, visual, and rather daring (if you asked me) birth scene. My first thought was, Whoah!… and then Well, any book that starts with a jarring, evocative line like “the mother clenched her body into one final, straining push, and the baby slithered out into Gaia’s ready hands,” is bound to be taking chances elsewhere. And I like books that take chances.

I wasn’t disappointed.

(I ♥ the PBK cover.)

The setting for this book is unique—something like the 1st-century Middle East. At least, that’s how I envisioned the small, twisting streets, bright flowing garments, water cisterns, and stretching desert. And, it is incredibly well evoked. The artistry of the book really is in the details that are woven throughout. Well-placed flashbacks and everyday events illuminate and develop protagonist Gaia into not only an empathetic character, but an almost living, breathing entity one feels drawn…even compelled to follow under the wall and down the perilous streets of the Enclave—though it very well may cost you your life!! (Hyperbole, I know, but I was into it!)

The love interest, Leon, is singular (*handful of confetti*) and irresistibly compelling (*bag of confetti*), on account of which the ending—a cliffhanger, and normally a turn-off for me in series books—is really shocking, painful, thrilling, and, well, just excellent. (*confetti storm*)

Of course, this means that one (read: I) must acquire a copy of book 2 ASAP, or one (read: I) really might burst…but enough about that.

There was only one element I thought could have used “more,” and that was Gaia’s parents. Because of the circumstances of the plot, they were kind of glossed over/incidental, and dealt with rather abruptly at the end. Considering the obvious care taken throughout the rest of the book, I can’t help but wonder if that was a result of the story’s unexpected evolution from 1 volume to 3 (an anecdote O’Brien revealed at the Brooklyn book festival this September). As much as I usually begrudge the after-effects of a publisher-pushed sequel, however, I am equally (oh, who am I kidding? more) glad to be able to revisit Gaia and her world.

And, I have a sneaking suspicion it will turn out alright: the mastery really is in the writing—the style, the vocabulary, the excellent metaphors. Those elements, and a tight plot with elemental (detailed) integrity, set Birthmarked apart from others in the genre.
 
For another perspective on this title, check out my good friend Shanella’s review.

 

Book Review: Enclave by Ann Aguirre August 19, 2011

Release Date: April 12, 2010
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
272 pgs

★★★1/2

It’s dark, but you can just see the outline of the tunnel walls ahead, curving on in their endless arc. It’s all you have ever known, the Enclave of youths you were born into, the only human contact you have ever had…until now.

Something shuffles to your left—it’s rotting stench is overwhelming. But survival of the fittest doesn’t leave much room for the squeamish. Besides, you are a Huntress. This is your purpose. So, you end him in a warm spurt of blood. His companions will finish him off. They’re hungry. They aren’t squeamish either.

There are stories of others like you up there, but you would never venture topside. Enclave elders say it’s all scorched and toxic. And, despite what your new hunting partner thinks—or the warm shivers his nearness gives you—you believe what they say. Well, most of it anyway. Their laws are harsh, but they keep you fed and safe…

Except. Maybe…no. You shouldn’t even consider it. The Freaks aren’t a threat. They’re just crazed animals in human form…rotting bodies with razor sharp teeth. They don’t think. And they certainly don’t organize. They don’t. Really. They just don’t.

If they did, we wouldn’t survive.

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I knew this story was going to be quite unique from page one—which prompted my attempt at an unusual summary above. (Pardons if it’s ghastly!)

The narrator lets on that her world is not the same as the reader’s. There’s been a second holocaust, she says, one that razed human civilization…leaving behind a few ragtag groups to fend for themselves using what vestiges of human culture can be salvaged…underground.

The book really does an excellent job of keeping the reader, too, in the dark—both literally and figuratively. The more you read of the tight, gloomy post-apocalyptic underworld, the less it seems you can remember the feel of the sun on your face. The instinct for survival is visceral, as is the sinking realization that this could be our world, if the right thing goes wrong.

Similarly, until the last 10 pages, it’s never revealed exactly where in relationship to the present day world you have been —or why it’s the way it is—which I appreciated immensely. (I really thought it quite a shame on those bloggers who let the cat out of the bag in the first few lines of their review!) Even the fact that the question goes unspoken (because, absolutely true to her circumstances, the heroine doesn’t even know it can be asked) really adds to the close, musty murkiness of it all: it’s as if the world as we know it has truly ceased to exist. Serious props to the author—it was mightily well pulled off.

I do have to confess that I wasn’t quite as pleased with the 2nd half of the book (into which there was a significant shift) for three reasons. First, I had a lot of questions unanswered about the people/places/things in the 1st half that I thought were rather abruptly (& ergo cheaply) dismissed. However, I have hope they will be revisited/answered in the sequel, so I won’t belabor that just yet. And, relatedly, there was a certain thinness to the latter half: too much happens in too few pages. You don’t really have time to get attached to anyone or anything—despite the passage of book-months. In the rapid-fire beginning, this thinness serves to underscore the transience of life as it has become, but in the end results in a kind of “weak tea” effect. Finally, a half-hearted attempt at a love triangle left a fairly sour taste in my mouth. (They always do…)

However, I won’t reveal any more detail than that—though I’m longing to (maybe a hidden post?)—because this is one book where I strongly feel that the experience of reading blind is a huge draw—and one of the book’s greatest achievements. The concept, the setting, the world, they’re all fresh, as far as books go. We’ve seen the same thing in films before, but reading it is really a different and intriguing experience. I also love that it’s inspired and/or influenced by George MacDonald’s “The Day Boy and the Night Girl” story…but I’ll write more on that later…

Let me know if you agree.

P.S. DON’T watch the book trailer. DO NOT. I’m warning you. It really doesn’t do the book ½ ounce of justice…

 

Book Review: The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare August 3, 2011

Titles: City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass
Release Dates: July 2, 2007; March 25, 2008; March 24, 2009
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Series: The Mortal Instruments
Rating: Idea 3★; Execution 2★

★★1/2

Clary lives as normal and uncomplicated a life as anyone can in NYC—bohemian mom, quiet best friend Simon, father-like family friend Luke… There is nothing more to Clary’s world than the everyday—until reality comes crashing through the thin veil of her mind late one night in a sketch downtown club. One glimpse and Clary’s mundane life becomes utterly complex: mother’s missing; Simon’s hopelessly in love with her; angels exist, so do demons, werewolves, and vampires (aka “downworlders”); and the only person who seems to know what’s going on is the single most arrogant, cold, and freakishly HOT guy Clary has ever seen. His name is Jace, and he calls himself a Nephalim—half human, half angel.

Before she can even remember to object, Clary is thrown headlong into a serious interspecies conflict led by a rogue Nephalim—Valentine—whose very name inspires the shivers. As the whole shadow world struggles to decide whether to combine forces and stop Valentine from claiming the 3 powerful Mortal Instruments or to give in and allow him to fulfill his diabolical plans, it slowly becomes apparent that Clary is the unsuspecting lynchpin.

In order to stop him, she must face a host of challenges—physical, psychological, and romantic—before confronting the ultimate choice to sacrifice what matters to her most, or live with the devastating consequences.

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**—Spoiler Alert—**

(I won’t give away whole storylines, but will hint at things that aren’t revealed until bk 3.)

I knew that sooner or later it’d have to come along: my first negative review. However, please bear in mind that I’m not saying not to read these books. Though I got frustrated and sometimes put them down (for the reasons outlined below), I wouldn’t have not finished them. Hence the 3 stars (where I was tempted to give 2). I don’t think that I will pick up the new *surprise* book 4, City of Fallen Angels though…and I don’t really think back on the ones I did read…at all.

That’s because this trilogy falls firmly into the group I’d call “cotton candy”: look pretty, smell pretty, melt in your mouth and are gone. They are, seemingly without remorse, a very cheap thrill—a la Twilight & Co.—and for that reason, very hard to put down. I found myself alternatively groaning with gusto and sighing with teen fever.

If you’re interested to know the details of why I wasn’t so keen on them, keep reading. If not, skip to the next set of stars.

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In particular, these 4 things bothered me:

1) Simon. Love triangles are common enough that I’ve devoted an entire category to them here. But, some are achieved more or less annoyingly than others. This was not in that group. Simon, Clary’s friend-turned-gaggy-crush, doesn’t stand a chance—he’s a clear 2nd best to the cold, heroic heartthrob, Jace. Although, there is one “turn off” about Jace that is supposed to make us doubt his destiny to be with Clary, it was so un-deftly played that I never bit. As a result, Simon ended up looking even dorkier than intended, and, well, just grated on my every last nerve.

2) Incessant Foreshadowing. A literary device full of potential, it became something of a dead horse in these books. I knew the answers to the “burning” questions (and was 100% confident about them) some 500 pages before they were answered. This was, in part, because the narrative was a little too transparent, but also partly because the author spent so much energy trying to keep the questions burning that she smoked the answers out. I like a little more cleverness to my mysteries—otherwise, what motivation do you have to keep reading a not-particularly-well-written 1500-page series?

3) Reckless Manslaughter. Like George in HP, a sibling of a supporting character dies in the final book. However, this series wasn’t brave about it: the character is so minor to the plot as to be useless; its removal more of a hiccup than heartstop—and the motive such an obvious attempt at evoking pathos that I almost laughed…then got angry (see Tweet proof). The poor kid’s role—who, unlike George, we never get to know and love—is reduced to something like a cute puppy who gets bopped on the head to make softhearted girls go “awww!” Truly, this piece of the narrative was ridiculously clumsily pulled off (enough to deserve two –ly adverbs!). If the writing’s good, it will evoke tears through its art—not by stabbing the reader in the hand with a fork.

4) Clamoring Clichés…and a lot of familiar motifs. There is a chunkton of rather unoriginal material in this series. I don’t necessarily mean the demon/angel/etc lore—but in actual motifs of the storyline. (Those spoilers I told you about hit most here.)

  • Brother-sister a(ttra)ction (Starwars)
  • Sociopathic, racist villain whose name begins with “V”—every mention of which name strikes fear—whom the adults of the book went to school with and knew as a “less than purely evil young man,” and who plans the purification of the world from inferior races by means of 3 magical artifacts…(Need I go on? Of course, I do mean Voldemort.)
  • A triumvirate of mystical objects, which, when combined, achieve world-changing ends. (Harry Potter series; His Dark Materials trilogy)
  • Heroine who has the power to write or read magical runes/glyphs/letters that alter reality. (the Dreamdark series; His Dark Materials trilogy)
  • Protagonist who discovers they have a powerful parent they’ve never known when they go off to a haven for their “like kind.” (Percy Jackson series; His Dark Materials trilogy; Fever Crumb series)
  • Heroine who is small/weak, and needs protecting by the tall, cold, quiet heartthrob. (Twilight series)
  • Tall, cold, quiet heartthrob with burning golden eyes and slightly jealous siblings. (Twilight series)
  • World with a somewhat malevolent group of special-powered rulers, sitting in a remote European corner of the globe, unbeknownst to the rest of society. (Twilight series; Harry Potter Series; Percy Jackson series; Vampire Academy series…)
  • Death of a supporting character’s sibling. (Harry Potter series)
  • Etc.

Now, I’m not saying I believe much (if any) of our contemporary literature can claim full originality—it’s just not possible, nor would it be much fun. The art of storytelling for the entire history of man has coincided with the art of borrowing. (That was, actually, my masters thesis in a nutshell.) And, J. K. Rowling is a primary example—her work is a virtual collage of borrowed mythic and literary artifacts. However, her story is also extraordinarily complex and subtly original in its own right. The Mortal Instruments books, however, don’t have the same complexity by far, and thus their recycling comes across as rather obvious and forced than intriguing, clever, or allusive.

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All in all, if you are looking for an easy, fast, rollercoaster ride through romantic conflict and paranormalcy, I do recommend this trilogy. The love story (and hunka-hunka hero) was enough to pull me through. And, pull me it did, I must admit. I was dying to know what happened to Clary and Jace at the end (…even though I already knew…). But, if you find yourself groaning at the obsessive hint-dropping, see-through emotional triggers, and overall mundaneness of style, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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(P.S. They are making this into a movie…about which I was excited, until I heard that they had cast Jamie Campbell Bower as Jace.

Nothing in particular against him, but he just DOES NOT fit my image of Jace. Not substantial enough. Not symmetrical enough. Overall? Just not HOT enough to be Jace! (Sorry, Bonnie! It’s just true.)

(If you’ve ever seen him in the Camelot series, you know what I mean…)

 

 
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