Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Series Review: The Legend Trilogy by Marie Lu

Opening Thoughts
Lu’s debut trilogy hadn’t really been on my radar until two coworkers decided to establish an impromptu readalong. Because when do I ever say no to an additional chance to read and discuss books?

I wasn’t overly impressed with Legend and would have been content to end reading the trilogy there, but shortly thereafter I had the opportunity to borrow the remaining two books and took it. And I’m actually glad I did so. Overall, the story got better as the series progressed.

Although I will try to focus here on my general thoughts of this series, this review will contain some spoilers for Legend. I will try to limit spoilers for Prodigy and Champion.

Legend by Marie Lu
Series: Legend, #1
Published: 2011, Penguin
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Source: Library

June Iparis has achieved the practically-impossible score of 1500 out of 1500 on the government-mandated Trial each citizen must take at the age of 10. She’s considered to be a prodigy and the Republic of America’s most valuable asset.

Day received a failing score on his Trial, which means that his “inferior” genes are not wanted by the Republic as it continues to wage war against the Colonies, another governmental system developed in the ruined wasteland that once was the United States of America. Day was experimented on and then was supposed to be sent to a “work camp” (in actuality a death camp), but he escaped and has been actively working to thwart the Republic ever since.

The Republic, which has worked so hard to turn June into a model soldier and place Day behind bars, is ultimately responsible for bringing the two of them together. And once together, they discover that neither is able to return to his/her old life ever again.

Technically speaking, there’s nothing really bad but Legend. But there’s also nothing that really makes Legend stand out in an overcrowded field of YA dystopian novels, either. It’s a story we’ve heard over and over again about a seemingly good government full of corruption, a character who slowly realizes all the truths (s)he believes in are little more than lies, and that special someone who helps him/her make that realization.

To be fair, Lu’s debut was published three years ago now, right around the time that dystopian novels really started to take off. Much of what can be viewed as derivative and formulaic by a reader familiar with current dystopian offerings may have been more original back when the novel was first published. But reading can never occur in a vacuum, and so my knowledge of trends that have preceded and succeeded Legend has colored my reading experience somewhat.

Despite its flaws, Legend reads like a good dystopian novel should. It’s fast-paced and entertaining, with very few slower, exposition-heavy parts. Readers are told what they need to know in order for the story to progress, with more and more tidbits revealed as the story continues.It just ultimately wasn't very memorable for me.

Rating: 2 stars 

Prodigy by Marie Lu
Series: Legend, #2
Published: 2012, Putnam Juvenile
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Source: Borrowed

With the help of the Patriots, a rebel group, June and Day have escaped the Republic with their lives. Their plans, such as they are, are to regroup, reassess, and find Day’s little brother Eden. But it isn’t long before they become embroiled in a new political battle, one that asks them to assassinate the Republic’s new Elector Primo so that the Patriots can install one of their own (and better, of course) men in the position.

Sensing they have little choice in the matter (and because they desperately need access to the Patriot’s resources to find Eden and heal Day’s leg), June and Day decide to assist the Patriots for now. As their new tasks force them to go separate ways, June and Day begin to question what exactly they stand for, and their commitment to one another.

In what is turning out to be a pretty typical feeling for me, I thought that Prodigy was quite a bit stronger than Legend. Or, at least, I found myself enjoying the story more this time around.

If Legend was about June and Day learning to break free from their preconceived notions of their world, then Prodigy is about them coping with the aftermath of disillusion and insecurity (and adding a ton more uncertainty on top of that). In Legend the two learn to trust one another and work together to achieve their goals. In Prodigy, because they are separated for large portions of the book, they must learn how to truly trust one another.

As one would expect, a lot of drama accompanies June and Day’s emotional and romantic journeys. On top of warring ideological beliefs, two potential love interests are unveiled. Honestly, the challenges surrounding their distinctive belief systems would have been enough, but what bestselling YA book doesn’t include some additional romantic interests these days?

Prodigy is a novel of subtleties. There is a good amount of action as well, of course, but the novel really shines in the smaller moments. Particularly powerful are the scenes where June and Day finally travel to the fabled Colonies and experience them for all they’re worth. The subtle play of emotions between June and Day, the hints of tension and unease that surround the Patriot’s assassination plot, the question of what’s happened to Eden, are where Prodigy really excels.

In this sequel, Lu not only greatly expands on her world and further defines her characters, but she has written a dystopian worth reading (not the easiest feat these days).

Rating: 3.5 stars

Champion by Marie Lu
Series: Legend, #3
Published: 2013, Putnam Juvenile
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian
Source: Borrowed

Through his open rebellion against the Republic and his ability to sway the people to his side, Day has become a legend to his people. Ever since she scored perfectly on her Trial, June has been trained to become the Republic’s perfect little prodigy. But the Republic has undergone many changes in the past few months, including the ascendance of a new elector.

As a better Republic is in the process of being formed, June and Day must deal with some unexpected challenges, including a dangerous version of the virus that the Republic once used for experimentation on its lower classes. Now the virus has morphed and infected parts of the Colonies, which has led to a full-out war between the two sides.

It seems quite common for the final books in dystopian trilogies to deal with war, and that’s certainly true here. So much of the first two books in the Legend trilogy are about June and Day unraveling the lies that have guided their lives and figuring out just what they really stand for. Nothing like raising the stakes by forcing them to answer those questions as they deal with larger conflicts.

For the most part, though, their character development is reasonably realistic. I had issues with their youth in the first two novels; I cannot believe that two fifteen year olds would exhibit that level of maturity, even if they have had to deal with unusually difficult situations. By the end of Champion, however, June and Day very much feel like they’ve come into their own as individuals and as romantic partners.

Champion is a worthy conclusion to June and Day’s story. It’s messy and imperfect, much like their own lives over the course of the novel. People die. Causes fought for are lost. In the battle between the totalitarian-like regime of the Republic (albeit one that is in the process of changing) and the consumer culture-driven Colonies, it’s the citizens of the two nations who are really losing.

The resolutions here aren’t the easiest, perhaps, but they have a nice ring of finality. The ending and epilogue, though, they broke me. I’m not sure if it’s because I was finishing up late at night and more easily manipulated in my sleep deprived state, or if Lu truly managed to portray emotional anguish. It was rough to read, but beautifully so.

Rating: 3.5 stars

In Summation
Lu’s writing and characterizations are not anything extraordinary, but there’s something to be said for consistent improvement; and that is how I gleaned my enjoyment from reading this trilogy. It’s always a nice thing to see stories become better developed over the course of a series, and, in my opinion, the series went from decent to good (perhaps even very good).

Ultimately, though, I think one’s enjoyment of the Legend trilogy will be very much based on their current feelings towards the YA dystopian genre. Those who are simply looking for an action-packed, typical sort of dystopian will presumably enjoy these, as will those more unfamiliar with the genre and current trends. For those a bit worn out from the dystopian craze and more critical of books published within this genre (like me), these may not prove to be quite as enjoyable reads.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman

The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman
Published: 2014, Delacorte Press
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Purchased

No, it was best not to look straight at the truth of the thing. Only sometimes, truth has ways of revealing itself.

The Glass Casket is essentially a work of Gothic fiction, replete with a naive young heroine, a doomed romance, deaths that hint at the supernatural, and an isolated provincial town. Well, a work of Gothic fiction that traverses far past the line of being probably supernatural, instead becoming undeniably supernatural.

Rowan Rose and her scholarly father live in the quiet village of Nag’s Head. Nag’s Head is a town isolated from the rest of the kingdom, whose people rely on superstitions and centuries-old beliefs to drive their actions. Practical, scientifically-minded Rowan and her father don’t quite fit in with their neighbors, but it is where they call home.

Being in Nag’s Head has helped them lead safe, if uneventful, lives since the death of Rowan’s mother shortly after Rowan was born. But then changes start happening to their village - changes that threaten their underlying sense of safety, of certainty. First, five royal soldiers journey past Nag’s Head into the mountainous, wintery forest and are found dead shortly thereafter. Then, a man, a woman, and a girl Rowan’s age move into the village, claiming to be Rowan’s relatives. Because the deaths of five of its soldiers cannot go unnoticed, the crown sends the queen’s brother, along with his young ward, to aid the town in some investigation into the incident. With the influx of new people, a loss of the village’s anonymity, and an unspoken terror that comes ever closer, Rowan knows that things can never be the same.

Unsettling and atmospheric without descending into downright frightening, The Glass Casket is a darkly evocative novel. Through the journey of Rowan, her cousin Fiona, and the dangers that lie outside of their small town, The Glass Casket is fashioned as a retelling of “Snow White and Rose Red.” But this story bears more resemblance to the original tales that the Grimm brothers collected - the ones deemed unsuitable for the eyes and ears of children - than anything else.

And this overbearing sense of darkness and bleakness, tempered by rare bits of joy and hope, is where the story really shines. The unknown is always a terrifying concept. The unknown has the power to make us also question all the truths and certainties we’ve previously held, as Rowan and her fellow villagers realize. For what exactly has the power to tear chunks out of one man like an animal, and then compel four other men to lie naked in the snow and die from hypothermia? And what has the power to sneak within the village’s boundaries, unnoticed?

The gradual acceptance of the unknown, of the unexplainable, forms a large part of Rowan’s struggles throughout the novel. For Rowan is the child of a scholar and a scholar herself; she’s never quite believed in all that her fellow villagers have espoused, from when and how bodies must be laid to rest to the existence and power of supernatural beings. It’s a bit of an understatement to say the events of The Glass Casket cause Rowan to undergo some serious reconsideration of truths she’d previously held.

The tension McCormick creates here - between Rowan and her beliefs, between humans and the distinct sense of otherness - is wonderfully done. Very real threats loom closer and closer to Nag’s Head, and no single person is safe from those implications.

As a Gothic horror, The Glass Casket succeeds quite well. As a retelling, however, it is not quite as convincing. This does not tell the story of “Snow White and Rose Red” aside from a supernatural connection between sisters, one fair-skinned and fair-haired, the other fair-skinned and dark-haired. No other elements of “Snow White and Rose Red” translate all that convincingly into this novel. Perhaps that’s for the best; The Glass Casket weaves together a few tropes associated with fairy tales, but is ultimately a story that is wholly its own.

Where The Glass Casket falters the most is in its explanation and overall execution of the major conflicts. In a few short pages, the novel hopes to resolves hundreds of pages worth of tension and that just cannot feasibly happen. Any explanations given felt rushed and incomplete, and too few plot threads felt satisfyingly addressed. I am not saying that I need every aspect of a book to be properly resolved, but in this case it felt as though McCormick was trying to resolve certain threads...and it just didn’t quite work.

With a stronger ending, I could have ended up loving this novel. As it is, I still quite enjoyed it. McCormick has a gift for telling darkly atmospheric, poetic stories. In Rowan Rose’s characterization, her relationships with others, and the questions posed about what we know (and what we cannot know), there remains lot to be admired about this story.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ready to Become a Fan of... Patrick Ness

Ready to Become a Fan of... focuses on those authors new and old whose works I have every intention of eventually reading, but haven't been able to devote the time to just yet. By discussing authors and their works that I'm sure I'll love, given the chance, hopefully I can be more easily compelled to take the next step in not simply acquiring one of their books, but actually take the time to read it.
This month I'm putting on record that I am ready to become a fan of Patrick Ness.

About the Author:
Patrick Ness, an award-winning novelist, has written for England’s Radio 4 and Sunday Telegraph and is a literary critic for The Guardian. He has written many books, including the Chaos Walking Trilogy, The Crash of Hennington, Topics About Which I Know Nothing, and A Monster Calls.

He has won numerous awards, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Booktrust Teenage Prize, and the Costa Children’s Book Award. Born in Virginia, he currently lives in London. (source

Work I'm most looking forward to reading:
The Knife of Never Letting Go
Prentisstown isn't like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee -- whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not -- stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden -- a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought? (Goodreads)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Top Ten Books I'm Not Sure I Want To Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the BookishThis week we're discussing those books we once had every intention of reading...and now, we're not so sure about. I limited my response to some books that I have actually acquired/purchased (so have in my possession) that I just may not actually take the time to read.

 First, an ARC:
Plus One by Elizabeth Fama
I was actually really excited about reading this at one point, and I can't even pinpoint just why I no longer feel like reading it. I'd say it's because I don't want to read dystopians, but that's not quite true. I just can't muster enough curiosity to battle this inertia.

Then, some ebooks:  
The Testing (The Testing, #1) by Joelle Charbonneau
Partially because I'm not in the mood for a new dystopian series. Mostly because I'm not sure how interested I ever was in this particular series. I fell bait to it being free for Kindle.
The Night Creatures trilogy (Burn Bright, Angel Arias, Shine Light) by Marianne de Pierres
Again, free for Kindle. It sounds like a cool concept and it's Aussie YA. But I haven't heard the best things with regard to this series, so that's definitely affecting my desire to pick this up. 
The Books of Bayern series (Enna Burning, River Secrets, Forest Born) by Shannon Hale I did love Hale's The Goose Girl (my review), but I think mainly because it was a fairy-tale retelling. I'm just not sure I love this world/these characters enough to continue reading about it. 
Stray (Touchstone, #1) by Andrea K. Höst I didn't love Höst's And All the Stars (my review) nearly as much as I'd hoped. I have heard great things about her works (this series in particular), but, really, I just bought this because it was free for Kindle.  
Entangled (Spellbound, #1) by Nikki Jefford This was actually the first ebook I purchased when I started blogging. I'm not sure how I heard about it, but I thought buying it was a good idea at the time. It just doesn't sound like the type of story I'd enjoy, unfortunately.   
The Registry (The Registry, #1) by Shannon Stoker I know that basically everyone seems to have disliked this book. But I found it free on Kindle and it does sound like something I could like. The issue here is going to be starting it with the knowledge so many people haven't enjoyed it.
Finally, a few audio books:
Of Poseidon (Of Poseidon, #1) by Anna Banks
The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, #1) by Jennifer A. Nielsen
The Raven Boys (The Raven Boys, #1) by Maggie Stiefvater These basically all have the same rationale. I'm not opposed to reading them (in fact, I really, really want to read the latter two), but I have no real way to listen to audiobooks at this time, so the amount of effort I'll have to put in to listen to them makes me disinclined to read them.
So, am I crazy? Should I reconsider any of these books?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
Series: Shattered Sea, #1
Published: 2014, Del Rey
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Publisher via Netgalley

A wise minister weighs the greater good, Mother Gundring always said, and finds the lesser evil. Surely a wise king could only do the same?

In a world where a leader’s worth seems to be determined by his fighting skills, Prince Yarvi of Gettland had the misfortune of being born with a crippled hand. Due to a considerable degree of mental acuity and the fact that he’s only the second son, Yarvi has found a way out of the constant pain and harassment of being seen as half a man; instead, he’s been training for years to become a minister, an advisor for the people.

All is as it should be until shortly before Yarvi is poised to take the test to become a minister, when he learns that his father and brother have been murdered in one fell swoop, effectively leaving him as King Yarvi. It’s a position that no one wants for him, least of all Yarvi himself. Determined to make the best of his situation, Yarvi pledges to avenge his father and brother. The act of vengeance, however, is no simple task, and soon Yarvi finds himself far away from home, with seemingly insurmountable obstacles barring his path.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Review: Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
Series: Vampire Academy, #1
Published: 2013, Razorbill (Originally 2007)
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Source: Purchased

Only a true best friend can protect you from your immortal enemies.

Rose and Lissa have adjusted to life on the road as much as could be expected for two teen girls being hunted by vampires can be. Nearly a year ago they fled their academy without warning, but as the last of her line and of a royal lineage to boot, the academy’s forces have been searching for them. The academy isn’t the only danger present to Rose and Lissa, however; the undead vampires, known as Strigoi, are always seeking out Lissa’s kind.

For Lissa is a Moroi, a full-blooded vampire. And Rose is known as a dhampir, a half-vampire, half-human being whose main purpose is to protect the Moroi. Although they haven’t gone through any formal ceremony, Rose has bonded herself to Lissa, considering herself to be Lissa’s de facto guardian.

Rose thinks she’s got things under control until they find themselves at a stalemate with another dhampir from their academy, and soon the two girls are being brought back to their “home,” the place where they’re trained and kept safe from the Strigoi. But they left St. Vladimir's Academy for a reason, and Rose is no longer convinced being there will keep Lissa safe.

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