Booknotized

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

Series Review: The 39 Clues February 27, 2012

Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: 2008 – Present
Series: The 39 Clues 1-10; The 39 Clues: Vespers Rising; The 39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers 1-3+
Age Group: 9-12
Genre: Action-Adventure
Pages: various (from 150 – 327)
Source: provided by publisher as reference for freelance work (see below)
Rating Breakdown: Idea 5★; Execution 3.5★

Amy and Dan Cahill are just two regular kids. Amy’s shy and quiet; Dan’s rowdy and hilarious. Except for their grandmother, Grace, they have no family—that they know of—and when she dies, it seems they really are on their own…
 
…until Grace’s will reveals that not only are they part of a larger family, but it’s, well, HUGE! (Not to mention the most powerful in human history.) But before Dan and Amy can get too cuddly, they also find out that there’s a family feud stretching all the way back to Gideon Cahill and his quarrelsome kids in the 1500s that splits the Cahills into four branches. What’s more, they discover that a secret formula lies at the root of the feud—and it’s up to them to find all of the clues before anyone else can.
 
Book 1, The Maze of Bones  by Rick Riordan, sets the siblings off on a globe-trotting trek to uncover Gideon Cahill’s greatest secret. Filled with action, adventure, geographic thrills, and spine-tingling chills, the series continues in the 9 following volumes, each written by a different author (incl. Gordon Korman, Patrick Carman, Jude Watson, Linda Sue Park and several more).
 
Dan and Amy’s story picks up again in series two, Cahills vs. Vespers, with an intermediate novel to bridge the gap, Vespers Rising. I recommend beginning with series one, book one, and working your way up. So far, only two books have been published in the Cahills vs. Vespers series, with book three, The Dead of Night, due out March 6.
 
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
 
I was first introduced to the 39 Clues when I was asked to participate in the creation of some materials for a webcast featuring Ruth Culham—with whom I worked closely on the Scholastic Traits Writing program—and the 39 clues. (You can find the materials I helped generate here.) The webcast and worksheets were designed to get kids examining text and excited about writing by introducing them to the Traits and helping them discover in favorite/familiar books models and mentors for their own work.
 
While I didn’t have to read them all, after book one I found I had quite a fondness for Dan’s quirky character and Amy’s burgeoning sense of self-confidence. Their characters are really lively and well done—and despite the variety of authors, surprisingly consistent. I wound up reading 6 of the 10, and was pleased to revisit their world in the second series this past January when I was asked to participate in another related project.
 
The idea is really stellar and complex (despite some implicit/inadvertent eurocentrism) and the adventures are fun—the pace is nothing if not quick. Historical figures, bits of world cultures and geographic trivia are laced innocuously throughout. I was surprised myself, after the fact, to reflect on how much I had accidentally learned from the series about peope, places, and things I had thought I was quite knowledgable about. Coupled with the interactive website, there’s a lot for unsuspecting reluctant-reading minds to glean.
 
The writing is simple, fairly transparent, and there’s a somewhat “Nancy Drew” quality to Dan and Amy’s sleuthing and often predictable resolutions (which is one reason I didn’t press on to read the final four titles). But the series mixes it up – not always allowing Dan and Amy the spotlight OR the victory outright. Because the Cahill family is so large, there is a vast cast of multicultural characters to meet (though none of them is ever very deeply developed) and the 3rd-person perspective switches up regularly, providing lots of twists and turns.
 
Not deep or heavy by any means, often overly simple for the older reader in me, these are nonetheless fun, light, catching reads that could serve for the kid-at-heart as a good buffer between dark apocalypses and epic fantasies. Something like Spy Kids meets Carmen Sandiego turned print—though generally less cheesy and far more complex. The books had me clue-hunting right along with the Cahills, curious to find out how it would all wrap up in the end.
 
I definitely recommend these book for the 9-12-ers—who I’ve witnessed can get really NUTS for these things!—as well as for the adventurous 13+(+++)-er.
 

 

Book Review: Bumped by Megan McCafferty February 13, 2012

Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: April 26, 2011
Series: Duo (Thumped out April 24, 2012)
Age Group: Solid YA (strong, though not graphic, sexual content)
Genre: Post-apocalyptic
Pages: 336
Source: personal purchase – $.99 January Epic Reads, Kindle Edition
Rating Breakdown: Idea 3.5★; Execution 3★

★★★

Melody has her life all planned out—or, well, technically her parents do, but she’s ok with that. Really, who wouldn’t give their left ovary for a chance at a 6-figure signing bonus, college tuition, and a few moments with one of the most “fertilicious” sperm donors around? All she has to do is cook up a kid for the wealthy, childless Jaydens who’ve hired out her womb. Being a professional surrogate isn’t just the right thing to do, you know, for humanity and all—since the HPSV (human progressive sterility virus) started sterilizing everyone over 18. Without teen surrogates, humanity would go extinct in a matter of years. No, it’s also very hip—at least so say Melody’s parents, all the ads, and the people at Babies R U, who sell prosthetic “FunBumps” to get flat bellies in the mood. And, so says Melody, who was the first to turn pro at her school and make it OK for everyone else to capitalize on their most valuable assets…before they go bad, that is. Even though she has yet to get bumped (the Jayden’s have taken way too long selecting a boy toy), she’s still as excited as she was when this all began—isnt’ she?
 
Not if her twin sister, Harmony—who arrives from her sect’s compound in Goodside unannounced and unwanted—can help it. Harmony’s sole mission in life is to spread the Truth (or so she says), and that includes bringing Melody back from the brink of sinful disaster. Harmony certainly doesn’t intend to bump with anyone. No, sir. Why would anyone want to do a thing like that??
________________________________________________________________________________________
 
[So, be forewarned: this book is all about sexuality, as you may well have guessed. Though there aren’t any overly graphic scenes, sex is nonetheless very present throughout. Teenage pregnancy is a topic of ambiguous debate, and neither protection nor abstinence is considered seriously, nor is any perspective really committed to at the end. Perhaps some of those topics will be fleshed out (no pun intended..,) in Book 2, but were not in Book 1.]
 
For the first few chapters, I found this book rather annoying. A combination of heavy, heavy use of unexplained, world-specific slang from Melody, a wad of over-the-top fundamentalism from Harmony, and slow progress resulting from the alternating perspectives caused me to put it down several times. However, about halfway through, I began to get used to the slang. Harmony either softened up or I accepted her as a complex character (and not just an allegorical subject molded specifically to be mocked). The plot finally picked up, and I was surprised to find myself enjoying the last 150-or-so pages.
 
As for the world, it’s rather thin and flat. Fleshed out predominantly through the slang, it doesn’t ever really differentiate itself from “today.” High schools are high schools; hospitals are hospitals. The only discernable nuances are the virus and an internalized blink-driven fusion of the Internet/Facebook called the “MiNet” (clever phonetics for “ME” net?) that we’ve seen 1000 times already (The Uglies…). However, the virus and its repercussions are intriguing enough to consider (for a more structured exploration of the same, see P. D. James’ novel and the movie loosely based on it, Children on Men). The idea of gametes and uterus being commodities, and young girls being pressured to have not only sex, but babies, by peers and parents is an interesting and complex conflict. With the number of women experiencing fertility problems today and signs of a sperm count decrease being linked to water-borne hormones from oral contraceptives, it’s not even that far-fetched an apocalypse.
 
However, I felt the book’s handling of the topic was a bit too ambiguous. The focus was put more on the freedom to keep one’s own child, with adoption treated as somewhat undesirable. (I understood that it was forced adoption that was being looked down upon, but awkward, superficial handling of the subject didn’t really leave room for other considerations.) Because of the social situation, romance isn’t a driving force of the novel, which was quite refreshing. But, again, like the idea of teen pregnancy, the concept of sex outside of affection wasn’t well handled—though you do get a basic hint that the narrator feels one should be a prerequisite for the other. In the end, the story becomes more of an answer to the question, What would happen if extremist views that sex should only be procreative took over? than an exploration of the potential fallout from a debilitating virus or a even a promotion of sex’s other uses.
 
In addition, the reasons why in vitro fertilization isn’t more widely used is not satisfactorily explained at all. This was one of my biggest gripes. As an obvious alternative that’s medically available today, not to give any real reason it isn’t being used in such a future as this is just sloppy world-building. Additionally, though young people are having rampant sex (orgies included) STDs are never even mentioned. A cure has been found for AIDS, the reader is informed at one point, but no other mention of the hazards of unprotected sex are discussed, which I found rather irresponsible, given the age of the characters and the book’s target audience.
 
Finally, the ending was soooo incredibly forced. It was an unexpected cliff-hanger that was obviously manufactured to extend the brand. I usually hate those types of endings. I didn’t so much this time, but that may be due to the fact that I was reading an e-book, and thus unable to get outraged that the remaining pages were far less than needed to wrap up the plot (until it was already upon me!). Or, it simply might have been because I was so ambivalent about the characters and their story in general.
 
That said, I can’t deny that I did enjoy it, though I can’t really pinpoint why. While I am not sure I can say exactly what was good about it (nor sure it’s worth spending the time to craft such thoughts…), I can say what wasn’t bad: It wasn’t full of awkward phrases or overly simplified lines—that is, it wasn’t badly written on a line-by-line basis. The characters weren’t utterly odious, annoying, or flat. The plot didn’t completely stagnate. The idea wasn’t totally cliché. It wasn’t a cotton-candy read since, thankfully, it did have some thought-provoking substance. Oh, and it wasn’t romance-driven. (Perhaps its best quality.)
 
I will surprise myself by giving it a thumbs up on the jargon, which so turned me off at the beginning. Though hard to get used to, it was quite clever. If as much time had been spent developing the themes and plot as was spent on the slang, it would have been much better book.
 
All in all, I would be flat out wrong if I said it didn’t have something. I’ve spent a lot of time lately contemplating the idea that we are often judging books by too-narrow standards. Where literary criticism doesn’t always turn up any merit (case and point: Harry Potter!), popular opinion belies qualities that the ivory tower is overlooking. It reminds me of the idea of differentiated learning styles—you know, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Whatever the literary equivalents of those are, this book has some of them. More on that topic to come.

 

Series Review: Wolves of Mercy Falls (Shiver, Linger, Forever) by Maggie Steifvater November 10, 2011

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: August 1, 2009; July 13, 2010; July 12, 2011
Series: Wolves of Mercy Falls
Age Group: solid YA (implied/described sexual content; graphic violence)
Pages: 400; 368; 400
Rating: Idea 4★; Execution 4★; Style 4.5★
Genre: romantic fantasy

★★★★

Shiver / Linger

Grace is relatively happy living in her rural home with parents who are rarely ever there…it’s lonely, but she creates her own structure: good grades, no late nights…

Only when she begins to feel drawn away from the warmth and light into the quick chill of the Boundary Wood that fringes her house—toward the pack of wolves that roams there—does she realize that something is missing, and perhaps always has been.

Then the boy appears—and he is one of them, she is sure. His yellow eyes belong to the wolf, the stormy gray wolf who saved her all those years ago.

And then, he is Sam. And she cannot imagine life without him. So she doesn’t…

…but the cold, and his earthy, shaggy, winter body remembers. It will claim him.

It might be calling her, too.
 
Forever

Sam is stable…as much as he can be without Grace.
Where she is…what she is, he can’t be sure. He only knows he needs to find her, fast.
Now that a second death has been blamed on his pack, they only have so much time before the hunters begin closing in. It may already be too late.
 
____________________________________________________________
 
This series is sort of in a class by itself. It is a dark, brooding romantic fantasy of a similar brand as that of Twilight, but the style (and LACK of love triangle) is superior enough to make that comparison invalid. And, I think the quality of the writing has only improved with age. Out now, the third book has all of the same qualities as Shiver and Linger, only more crystallized and focused.
 
For one, the world is built with integrity. Fitting to the plot, it is tight and limited, but the text makes it visceral. Metaphor is a key descriptive player and it is used in fresh and surprising ways. Sam’s favorite poet Maria Rainer Rilke is quoted often, and I daresay the text benefits immensely from that—in style as much as in content.
 
The characters are multi-dimensional, but focused and consistent. They grown and learn—about themselves and others—over the course of the trilogy. (You would think that would be a given, but I’ve learned the hard way that this is an unusual characteristic in YA lit these days! So, when I see it, I like to point it out.) The side characters are intriguing (bad-boy Cole is there for those of us who like a scruffy egomaniac) and take on a life of their own as they become more central to the storyline in Forever. This is in part due to the multiple-point-of-view format of the book, which I found refreshing (each chapter is written in a different character’s voice). Overall, they (Sam, Grace, Cole, Isabel, etc) aren’t extremely deep, and sometimes their realizations are slightly obvious, but it’s not to the point of annoying. The crux of the book really is the plight of the werewolf, and, of course, the two soul mates caught in the crossfire between an errant biology and an ignorant humanity.
 
Yes, it’s a tender, emo love story. However, even though soft, skinny, sensitive Sam is not really my type, he is such a well-drawn character, you can’t help but like him. The poetry—Rilke’s, not necessarily Sam’s—often would step in to redeem him for me, giving him a deeper facet than most other series’ boy toys have. He so clearly needs Grace that you can’t help but root for them. Grace herself is all but perfect, but not in an unlikable way. She’s beautiful, but strong (kind of like Bella Swan should have been).
 
Really, for all of the wolf in them, they are both very human.
 
The plot is fairly strong: catching and medium-paced. I got slightly impatient at times, so it wouldn’t have worked for me to read all 3 books in a row. I read them as they came out, and I was actually happy with that. The world is compelling enough to make revisiting a pleasure. Some reviewers did not like the ending of the trilogy, but I did. True, it’s ambivalent, but not in a cheap, incongruent, copout, “no questions answered” way like the Incarceron series. There’s the hint of what could happen, but not the confirmation. Frankly, it totally fits with the style, and I was ok with that.
 
In fact, the most striking characteristic of the books for me lies in the style—in the “feeling” the writing gives: of cold.
 
True, the story is purposefully set on the borders of a wilderness in Mercy Falls, Minnesota, where winters are long and harsh: cold is what makes a werewolf shift into a wolf. But it’s one thing to simply state that fact—another to weave it into the fabric of the text. I don’t quite know how to explain what I mean, but for all the warmth of Sam and Grace’s relationship, I always came away from the text with a chill. It was as if there was somehow something delicate lying between me and them, a subtle frosty whisper that fills and parts the air.
 
That, I found totally masterful.

 

Series Review: Incarceron / Sapphique by Catherin Fisher November 4, 2011

Publisher: Dial
Release Date: January 26, 2010; December 28, 2010
Age Group: YA (utterly gratuitous mature language; mild graphic violence)
Pages: 448; 480
Rating: Idea 5★; Execution 2★
Genre: dystopia, sci-fi, & (some) fantasy with overtones of steampunk
 

★★1/2

Claudia lives in The Realm—a place where an Era of Victorianesque habit and aesthetic is enforced by a malevolent monarchy. She dreams only of escape from the life that has been planned for her. Her only solace is her tutor, Jared, who has been more of a father to her than her own morose parent, John Arlexa the Warden of Incarceron. At least she is Outside.

Inside, Finn lives, and has lived for the three long years of his life that he is able to remember. He, too, longs to Escape from the miserable existence within the great sentient, malevolent Prison to which he—and all others deemed undesirable or superfluous by the aristocracy—have been sentenced.

All too quickly, as age-old plots and schemes come to fruition, Finn and Claudia’s fates are thrust together. The future of both worlds, it seems, depends on their ability to unlock the secrets that lie deep within.
 

________________________________________________________________________________

 

As I tweeted the other night, I have rarely been as frustrated or disillusioned by a book or series as I was when I closed the cover on this one.

The idea is magnificent—something like The Matrix, something like The Scarlet Pimpernel, and still something like Mad Max and Blade Runner.

However, the idea’s execution in writing was deplorable, cheap, and utterly unsatisfying. You know how it was with Lost? Where the opening was fairly explosive and mysterious, but as the seasons dragged on it slowly became apparent that the writers had no long-term plan for the plot? No real ingenious answer to the mystery?

And everyone remained hopeful, despite being dragged on for eons by endlessly convenient twists, turns, and dramatic fluff, because they thought there surely would be some masterfully big reveal to tie it all together in the end?

★★1/2

Well, that was exactly my experience with these books, except without the hunky actors and special effects to tide a girl over. Full of fluff; unartful writing; and bad, see-through dialogue; impromptu/incongruous twists when the plot looked sure to dead-end; flat characters who neither were fully explained nor grew a millimeter over the course of 928 pages, and were often self-contradictory…

And, then, like the Lost finale, no questions answered. If anything, more were introduced, as if to cover the tracks of an MIA direction—yet again.
 
I am almost angry at myself for reading it. I knew at the end of Incarceron (bk. 1) that the execution was shoddy (I even tweeted my feelings), but was so curious about how the idea would come together that I convinced myself to keep going. I remained hopeful to the very end—past elements that didn’t really work in the world (the “Incarceron” beast; the “chain gang,” children born—as opposed to healed or reconstructed—with metal parts), or with the characters (Keiro’s fickleness; the Queen’s pseudo-evilness; the Warden’s loss of the key vs. the trio’s ability to keep the glove; the Prison’s simultaneous omnipotence and impotence, whichever suited the moment; etc), but were instead just convenient to the goose-chase of a plot.

I even clung on through the last few pages when things got really weird, and it seemed impossible that it could ever be satisfactorily pulled together, all the while thinking, Surely; surely no one would have published an idea this ambitious without a real, clever, mind-blowing ending.

This book has gotten lots of buzz. Taylor Lautner is starring in the movie, for goodness sake. Surely they wouldn’t…

But they did.

 
I think—if someone figures out how to salvage the plot/ending—it will be a truly wicked movie. But, as a book?

There are so many good, strong, dystopian/steampunk novels out there—The Hunger Games (bk 1), Birthmarked, Fever Crumb, etc. I would normally never do this—I am a book champion—but I suggest spending your reading time on the above and waiting to see Incarceron on screen.

 

Guest Review: No Such Thing as Dragons by Philip Reeve October 20, 2011

I always love getting recommendations for good books, especially when they are as ebullient as this one.

Shortly after finishing this title (part of my growing Philip Reeve collection – he’s pretty awesome, btw), that I had not even cracked yet, my husband Sorin, all but bubbling over with excitement, began to regale me with tempting snippets of the story line. As he recounted and gesticulated, I began to suspect that he was doing so as much to relive the story himself as to talk me into reading it. Since that’s exactly the art of book reviewing (at least for me!), I invited him to contribute a post of his own here on Booknotized.

A native of Romania, Sorin came to the US (where he met me) via Montreal, Quebec. Currently a computer science masters candidate, he recently completed his first novel, I, Pirate, which was a young adult division quarterfinalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards competition. Reading and writing are his passions, though I know I fit somewhere in there as well. I hope you enjoy this, his first (but hopefully not last!) review.

Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: September 1, 2010
Age Group: 9–12+ (some mature intimations; graphic violence)
Pages: 186

★★★★★

Before Johannes Von Brock arrived at the inn and asked for a child to follow him as squire, Ansel wasn’t worth much. So little, in fact, that his father didn’t even consider him a candidate. But the man liked the fact that the boy couldn’t speak, for he had secrets that he’d like kept that way…

For starters, “there are no such things as dragons.” Just spend a couple of days on the mountain, come back, tell the people you killed it, get paid, and go on to the next place. In a time where superstitions rule the mind of man, where mythical creatures roam the earth, in a time when legends are born, people need their savior. They expect it. And our brave knight is there for them.

But as they arrive in a tiny mountain village, plagued by a man-eating, sheep-stealing “worm,” neither master nor squire can imagine the turn that their lives are about to take.

_____________________________________________________________

I must confess, when I started reading this book, I had fairly low expectations. Jaded by same-subject movies, disappointed by the books, I anticipated a story where either dragons are more implied than actual (as the title suggests), or if present, then display human-like traits (sentience, emotion, etc). But, boy was I in for a surprise! A couple of pages in and I found myself caught in the beautiful, poetic, yet straightforward, language. I couldn’t care less for dragons. Or the action. Just give me more of those beautiful descriptions. It made me realize that it had been a long time since I read a well-crafted book. So long, in fact, that I’d gotten used to the mediocre ones.

And when the real action started, I couldn’t put it down. But I had to. It was 3 AM. I dreamt of dragons and brave little boys. No, not in that way, you perv. Because, you see, you think you know who the dragon fighter is, but… That’s all I’ll say.

The characters are wonderfully forged. Even the dragon. (Whoops!) The boy, Ansel, is one of few heroes in the plethora of modern young adult books who doesn’t have any superpowers. Wait, you say, he doesn’t have any superpowers? Not even a magical pinky, or a fairy godmotherslashuncleslashmaybedog? He doesn’t drink blood? Or perhaps a bit of power-enhancing, magic-awakening juice?

No, no magic. He’s mute, and that’s all, which certainly doesn’t help when being chased by a crazy-eyed dragon. Or when you’re hungry. But, in my opinion, he has more going for him than 275 of the other heroes put together. To make the right decision, when facing a killer beast is hard even for a man, but for a malnourished child? A hero is not made or born. One becomes. Will Ansel become a hero? I won’t tell you. Just read the book!

Truly, Philip Reeve accomplishes in 186 pgs what many others haven’t in a full series of 400 pgs each: to write an inspiring yet entertaining book, one that reaches deep inside and tries to change you.

I think No Such Thing as Dragons will make an exhilarating experience for any book-loving, adventure-craving kid. I know it did for me.

 

Book Review: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick October 11, 2011

Release Date: September 13, 2011
Publisher: Scholastic
608 pgs

★★★★★

It’s 1977, and somewhere in the quiet woods of Gunflint Lake, Minnesota, lives Ben Wilson. His mother has just died, and though his aunt and uncle welcome him in, he just cannot seem to feel at home. Something is missing. When he finds a 12-year-old clue about his father, Ben decides that the search for that mysterious man is the answer to all of his empty longing.

Flash back to Hoboken, New Jersey, 1927, where the story of a young girl is depicted only in pictures – or is it? Rose lives her life shut away in her home, and she, too, is longing. Longing for something . . .

The collision of their worlds will leave you speechless.

_____________________________________________________

Summary is not something that suits this book, really, so apologies for my somewhat cryptic attempt above. That’s because the storytelling in Wonderstruck is utterly unique. I did not realize, when I sat down to read it, that I was embarking on a sensory journey that would leave me mystified and in awe. Needless to say, the book’s title was chosen well.

Subtle and unobtrusive, it nevertheless defies all of the rules about reading that I – unwittingly – have always taken for granted. Text is text, right? Pictures are pictures, right? Wrong.

Selznick has created a masterpiece wherein the line between letter and sketch gradually blurs into one unified experience.

Like its similar, but intrinsically different sibling, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (movie directed by Martin Scorsese out Nov 23!!), Wonderstruck is a revolutionary publication. (I can’t quite bring myself to call it a “text.”) It will alter the way you look at and define “books.”

So much more than a picture book, this story can’t simply be read: it has to be experienced. I highly recommend.

 

(P.S. Don’t be daunted by the page count – the balance of text and illustrations make it a fairly quick read.)

 

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.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

.

**—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.

.

*     *     *    *     *

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.

*     *     *    *     *

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.

.

*     *     *    *     *

.

(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…)

 

 
%d bloggers like this: