Reviewed for THC Reviews The Maze Runner is a YA, post-apocalyptic, dystopian story in much the same vein as The Hunger Games or Divergent. The main diReviewed for THC Reviews The Maze Runner is a YA, post-apocalyptic, dystopian story in much the same vein as The Hunger Games or Divergent. The main difference, though, is that with those stories, particularly The Hunger Games, the reader knows what the characters’ main objective is right from the start and it’s just a matter of them reaching their goals. In The Maze Runner, Thomas, the main character, has no idea who he really is or why he was sent to the Glade. Also, no one who lives there has any idea what the Maze is all about, how to solve it, or if there even is a solution. This gave the book an air of mystery and suspense throughout that kept me reading and coming back for more. A couple of times, I figured things out before the kids did, which made those parts ever so slightly predictable. I also remember coming up with questions on occasion, some of which were answered and others that I don’t think were. For this reason, if a reader really wanted to deeply scrutinize this story, they could probably come up with some things to complain about. However, I found myself quickly forgetting my ruminations not long after they occurred to me, simply because the book was so darn entertaining. I couldn’t help wanting to know what was going on, since the reader is every bit as much in the dark as Thomas is, and I couldn’t wait for him to uncover the next piece of the puzzle. Not everything is revealed by the end, so even if I wasn’t a latecomer to the series, I’d know that a sequel was in the works. And that little bit of mystery that’s left at the end makes me eager to read the next book soon.
Thomas is the main character and third-person narrator of the story. It begins with him waking up in a metal box which he quickly realizes is an elevator. Aside from his name and basic knowledge of the world around him, he has no memory of who he is, where he came from, or how he ended up in this predicament. When the Box finally stops, he has arrived in a place called the Glade, where about fifty other boys work and live. None of them remember their lives before the Glade either. They just keep going through the same motions every single day, with one of those daily activities being that some of the boys go out into the Maze surrounding the Glade, searching for a way out. Unfortunately a few of them have been there for two years and still haven’t had any success in solving the maze. Plus the stakes are raised by the horrific monsters known as Grievers who live in the Maze that have either killed or “stung” several boys who came before Thomas. Although he has no idea why, Thomas longs to become a Runner, one of the boys who run the maze every day, from the moment he arrives in the Glade.
I really liked Thomas. He’s a smart kid who helps the Gladers figure out some things they might not have without him. He has a curious nature that serves him well in many ways, although it can be frustrating for him (and me too :-)) when the Keepers, the boys who are in charge of each area of the Glade, refuse to answer his questions. Thomas is also very intuitive about a number of things, which when added to his intelligence and curiosity, makes him a mentally well-rounded character. On top of that, he’s quite brave, daring to do things that the others are afraid to attempt. He’s also a natural born leader, stepping up to the plate on more than one occasion to kind of take charge – I say “kind of” only because he’s not an official Keeper – but ultimately, he’s the person who finally helps them solve the puzzle that’s been plaguing them for so long. I also like that Thomas is an emotionally balanced character. He’s tough and strong when he needs to be, but he shows emotion when it’s appropriate to do so rather than trying to hide his feelings. I also like how protective he is of Teresa when she becomes the first girl to enter the Glade. Overall, Thomas is a great friend and an all-around stand-up guy.
Thomas may be the main hero of the story, but there are plenty of supporting characters he meets along the way who play important roles, too. There’s Alby and Newt, who are both Keepers, but who are also the de facto co-leaders of the Gladers. Alby can be a bit abrasive at times, which doesn’t endear him to Thomas, but unlike some of the others, he can be reasonable. Newt is a little more of a peace-keeper who Thomas looks to for guidance and who sees the potential in Thomas. Chuck becomes Thomas’ younger shadow and their easy friendship makes them seem more like brothers. Gally, one of the Keepers, is confrontational from the start. He was “stung” by a Griever, which changed him, but most seem to agree that he wasn’t particularly easy to get along with even before that. There’s Minho, the Keeper of the Runners, who has no trouble believing in Thomas after Thomas saves his life. And then there’s Teresa, who not only shakes things up by being the first girl in the Glade, but after she arrives, everything about the Glade starts to change, leaving several Gladers thinking that she had something to do with it.
From a parental perspective, I feel that the book is fine for its intended audience. Although a few of the boys make some slightly objectifying comments about Teresa after she arrives, nothing untoward happens. Although Thomas has feelings for her that seem to be reciprocated, there’s no sensuality of any kind, not even kissing. The language issue is somewhat murky. While there are no genuine bad words from American English, the author does use a couple of moderate British profanities (bloody and bugger) as well as a few slang and euphemistic words (eg. shuck and klunk) that stand in for real bad words. These are peppered throughout and the Gladers sometimes use them as insults toward each other, but since they aren’t actual profanities, I’m inclined to mostly give them a pass. Savvy young people will probably figure out the meanings anyway, but they might go over the heads of younger readers. That leaves only the violence, which I would say is on par with The Hunger Games or Divergent, as a possible detractor. The kids engage in a couple of bloody battles with the Grievers, and what the Griever venom does to a person when they get “stung,” can be pretty grotesque. Thomas learns of the boys who previously died in the Glade, one of whom was sliced in half. Along the way, some characters we meet also die, including ones that readers will likely come to care about. Overall, though, it’s not too bad, definitely no worse than a PG-13 movie, so I’d say that it’s perfectly acceptable for a teenage audience, and I might possibly even say it’s OK for middle-school aged kids with some mild reservations and a recommendation of parental or educator guidance.
IMHO, The Maze Runner was an excellent story that’s bound to get kids reading with its fast-paced action and adventure, as well as keep them reading with its mystery and suspense. With its male-centric perspective, I think it would especially appeal to boys, but I’m sure many girls will like it, too, since I did. I was particularly impressed with the diversity of the characters, who come from different races and backgrounds (what little we know of them anyway). I think there are also some lessons to be gleaned from the way the Gladers must pull together and work as a team, as well as a couple of characters’ selfless sacrifices. They also exhibited persistence in not giving up on solving the Maze, even though no one had been able to figure it out in two long years, and in spite of the frustrations of not knowing exactly who they were or why they were there. So, overall, The Maze Runner was a great story that’s left me eager to dive into The Scorch Trials to see just how deep this rabbit hole goes....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Traitor was a nice wrap-up to the Four anthology and to the group of novellas that have now become widely viewReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Traitor was a nice wrap-up to the Four anthology and to the group of novellas that have now become widely viewed as prequels to the Divergent series. Despite that, I personally still think it’s better to at least read Divergent first. Otherwise, the reader will get major spoilers for that book and some things might not make a lot of sense. That’s especially true with this novella, which takes place pretty much simultaneously with events in Divergent. In this story, we learn how Four became aware of the unholy alliance between Dauntless and Erudite and their plans to attack Abnegation. He goes through some soul-searching as he tries to decide whether to warn his birth faction or not, as well as whether he can trust anyone enough to tell them these things. As he struggles with figuring those things out, he meets Tris and becomes her trainer, and we get to see some of the early parts of their relationship from his POV.
I think I’ve said it with each new novella I read in this series, but it might bear repeating that IMHO, the Divergent series as a whole would have been much better if it had been written in dual perspective. Getting Four’s POV on many of the events of the series has been great and has really helped to deepen my understanding of him as a character and some of the things that happened. It’s been so long since I read Divergent that I can’t recall precisely how the specific scenes in this novella compare to those same scenes in the main book from Tris’s POV, but I do recall complaining in my review of that book that the parts where Four takes Tris into his fear landscape along with their subsequent discussion and first kiss at the chasm afterward didn’t hold the emotional weight I felt they should have. Well, in this novella, that’s completely different, and I believe it’s all owed to the fact that we’re seeing what all this meant to Four. We learn why he chose to take Tris into his fear landscape and what it felt like for him going through that with her. We also get a richer conversation afterward and get to see his burgeoning feelings for her, too. It all made their relationship much more cohesive for me. The only reason I chose to knock off a half-star is because a few of the scenes seemed a bit repetitive with us only getting a slightly different perspective, but overall, I liked this novella a lot and really think that these scenes should have been included in the main Divergent book....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Freedom is a fascinating post-apocalyptic/dystopian story that takes place in an unspecified future time frame aftReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Freedom is a fascinating post-apocalyptic/dystopian story that takes place in an unspecified future time frame after something called The Burst, which while not explained, I assume to probably have been an EMP or something similar. The bulk of the story takes place in New Las Vegas, where only a chosen few live and work within the city. The rest are pretty much relegated to the Outside, which appears to be the outskirts of the city and in between the two is the NeverNever. In this future society, there are Talents and Non-Talents. The Non-Talents are exactly what you might expect, just normal humans. The Talents are special humans who’ve developed various psi talents. They might exhibit as empaths, telepaths, telekinetics, or other psychic phenomena, some of which are only known to the Talent Management Center, an organization that seems to oversee the various operations around the country that were put in place to identify Talents. The TMC basically ignores Non-Talents, using them in menial type jobs, while those who exhibit a moderate amount of talent will be trained for more specialized jobs within the cities. However, those who exhibit talents that go above and beyond, essentially become lab rats, who are tested over and over to figure out their limits until they are mentally broken. Although most don’t realize it, the TMC rules with an iron fist and are a pretty evil organization. I would have liked to know a little more about them. Are they the new government in this futuristic society? The fact that they have the Marines at their command seems to suggest that they either are or have some sort of government backing, but overall, the author doesn’t go into that too much. They are, however, a very scary organization with equally scary people working for them.
While the dystopian aspect of the book is very intriguing, at its heart, Freedom is very much an emotional human story. Within this landscape, we’re introduced to Patrick, who is a mid-level empath, working in the psychiatric wing of a medical facility. He and his two best friends were tested years before. His friend, Charlie, didn’t have enough talent to qualify to move into the city, but Patrick and Charlie’s girlfriend, Evie, did. Patrick was trained for the job he now holds, while Evie was taken elsewhere and later released back into the Outside. After being tested, she was said to be too psychologically damaged to work and hasn’t been the same since. However, no one really suspects that it was the TMC who did the damage to her. Patrick is pretty content in his job and has just been given his first solo case working with a John Doe who was found nearly dead by the Escapeway. The man is practically wild and doesn’t appear to speak or write except in gibberish. Using his empathic talents, Patrick soon realizes that his John Doe is much more than he seems on the surface and the longer he works with the man, the more he comes to care for him in a non-professional way. He also starts to realize some things about himself and about what’s going on in a wider sense, not only within the facility but the world outside as well. Patrick eventually comes to understand that his patient is in grave danger and he knows he cannot betray him, but he must make a difficult decision about whether he can give up the comfortable life he has in the city for the unknown world beyond.
John Doe 439 is really a young man named Jac, who has partial amnesia. Due to severe injuries, as well as emotional trauma, he sustained when attacked by the Purples, humans who’ve gone feral, he’s forgotten who he is or how he came to be at the medical center. All he knows is that his older brother always taught him to fear the All-Whites, and now he’s locked up in a place that’s completely white and only tended by people dressed in white. Into this frightening landscape comes Patrick, who treats Jac with gentleness, dignity, and respect. Gradually Jac begins to trust Patrick, especially after they connect psychically. To say that Jac is a sweet and gentle soul is almost an understatement. To many around him, he’s viewed as weak and easy prey, because he possesses an almost childlike quality. Even after he remembers how to speak, he does so in the way a small child might, dropping syllables and sometimes mispronouncing words, something his friend, Rob, calls a form of baby talk. Jac has an interesting backstory as to why this is that I won’t spoil for readers, but one of the reasons is that it’s much easier for him to simply communicate telepathically. There aren’t a lot of scenes from Jac’s POV, but on the rare occasions we get a look inside his mind, particularly after he starts to calm for Patrick, we see an intelligent man with a tremendous gift. He has psi talents above and beyond anyone who works with him has ever seen before. Patrick isn’t even certain what to call some of his talents. Again, I won’t spoil anyone by saying what they are, but he truly is a wonder. He’s also a deeply affectionate human being who loves to give and receive touch from the right people and in the right way, which as a touchy-feely person myself, I loved. When he finds out that Rob also survived the attack and they’re reunited, Jac is like a clinging vine who must be physically connected to him at all times, which made me question at times which of the men he was meant to be with, Rob or Patrick. The answer is kind of both but in different ways.
Initially the bulk of the POV scenes belong to Patrick with a few glimpses inside Jac’s troubled mind, but as the story progresses and moves outside the medical center, we get more and more scenes from other characters’ perspectives. There’s Patrick’s top-level empath supervisor, Sam, who recognizes Jac’s talents early on and starts covering up some of the things he can do. Sam ends up being a whole lot more than he seems at first. Patrick also has a co-worker, Dana, who works with Jac, too, and ends up helping in a lot of ways. We get to see things from Rob’s POV as well, as he supports Jac and gives so much of himself to the man he thinks of as a brother of sorts. Then there’s the evil Julia from TMC, who’s a bully determined to get her man and break him, but she didn’t count on him having help and being so powerful himself. If memory serves I think these were the only characters who got their own POV scenes but there are plenty more supporting players such as Charlie and Evie, and several other Talents, as well as at least one Non-Talent who we meet as they make their escape and who played integral roles.
Overall, Freedom was a story that very much drew me in and kept me reading. I thoroughly enjoyed it, so that being the case you might be asking yourself why I knocked off the half-star. Well, the main reason is that as wonderful as it was, I still felt it had a few weaknesses. First, I was a little reluctant to even classify this book as romance, because that part of the story is rather subdued and kind of secondary to other events in the story. The plot simply doesn’t follow the two men on the same track that most romances do with them meeting, forging a relationship, and falling in love. These things do happen, but in a much different way than what I’m used to. There’s no explicit sex and I don’t even recall them saying, “I love you,” although it’s fairly apparent by their actions. So for me, this was more of a sci-fi story with a light romance on the side. Then there were the questions I mentioned earlier about the greater world outside New Las Vegas and exactly what was motivating the TMC. Lastly, the author wrote the book in a number of different styles. Patrick alone was written in first person present tense when he’s interacting with Jac, first person past tense when he’s taking case notes, and third person past tense when he’s interacting with other characters. Once we start getting into the other characters’ POVs, they could be either first or third person, and I can’t say I understood the differentiation on those. I did get used to it and was never confused as to whose perspective I was reading because each POV change is clearly labeled with the character’s name and setting, but for some readers this may be jarring. Despite these perceived weaknesses, I still couldn’t help giving the book keeper status. I’m fascinated by all thing to do with the inner workings of the human mind and psychic phenomena, so that alone kept me glued to the pages. I also loved all the characters and felt like I was very much a part of their world. This was such a good read, I was quite surprised and a little disappointed to discover that this is, so far, the only book Jay Kirkpatrick has written, but if she (yes, despite the male-sounding name, this is a female writer) ever writes another, I’ll definitely pick it up....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews In The Son, the third novella that explores Four’s life before meeting Tris in Divergent, he has completed the Dauntless initiReviewed for THC Reviews In The Son, the third novella that explores Four’s life before meeting Tris in Divergent, he has completed the Dauntless initiation at the top of his class. As such, he’s eligible to choose pretty much any job he wants within the faction. He thinks he might want to be a trainer, but Max, one of the faction leaders, thinks he’s qualified for much more and wants him to go through the process of trying to become a Dauntless leader. This leads to a lot of contemplations on Four’s part as he tries to decide if this is what he wants to do with his life, while also continuing his rivalry with Eric for the same position. At the same time, Four accidentally discovers that there may be something foul afoot between Dauntless and Erudite, which makes him realize that hiding his “differences” are all the more important. Also for the first time, he hears the term Divergent applied to his awareness during simulations, and he also deals with a shocking revelation from his past.
The more of these novellas I read about Four, the more I’m convinced the Divergent series as a whole would have been better, IMHO, if either he had narrated it or if it had been done in dual narration. I’ve been enjoying these stories more than the main part of the series, and one of the reasons why is because they’re written in Four’s perspective. I feel like his character is really developing and coming alive in my mind’s eye far better than he ever did before. And for some reason, this particular story seemed to have an even deeper POV than the previous two or the series in general. Four is still the loner, preferring to take up residence in his own apartment after initiation, rather than with others within the faction, but he does still have a few friends. He also struggles between his two identities as someone who supposedly tested with an aptitude for Abnegation, but fearing his father’s abuse, chose to leave and become Dauntless. Four really starts figuring things out, both in his own life and in the events that are going on around him, which leads to more introspection. Overall, it was a really good read that I very much enjoyed. In addition to feeling more engaged in Four’s POV, I liked seeing more of the secondary characters who become a part of the main series: Eric, Zeke, Uriah, Shauna, Lynn, and Marlene. I also liked learning about the history of various plot points within the Divergent series and how those things came about. It was enlightening as well as entertaining, and very much makes me look forward to reading the final novella in this group of stories about Four....more
"4.5 stars" The Initiate is the second novella in the Four collection that follows the character of Four during his early days in Dauntless a couple o"4.5 stars" The Initiate is the second novella in the Four collection that follows the character of Four during his early days in Dauntless a couple of years before meeting Tris in the main Divergent story. In this novella, we get to see some of his training as a Dauntless initiate. We discover the origins of his rivalry with Eric, and it makes a lot more sense now why these two were always at odds. The initiates engage in a game of Dare, which leads to Four getting his first tattoo and getting drunk for the first time. He also begins to build some tentative friendships with Shauna and Zeke, which is a big step for this loner, and we can start to see how he ended up as a Dauntless trainer. I think the most interesting part of the story, though, is when Four starts to realize there’s something different about him because of his ability to be conscious while in fear simulations. This leads him to recall his father’s insistent warning that he not do anything strange during his aptitude test. It’s also the first time we get an inkling of his understanding of being Divergent although it still hasn’t been called that, and he also realizes that he’ll need to cover his tracks and not do anything that might “out” himself.
Overall, there’s quite a bit going on in The Initiate for such a short novella, so things don’t get explored in as much detail as I might have liked. I think the reason it seemed this way is that I still can’t help feeling that Four either should have been the narrator of the Divergent series, or better yet, it should have been done in dual narration. I believe I would have felt much more connected to him in the main part of the series if it had been. So far, I’ve enjoyed getting these little glimpses into his perspective. In this story, I was particularly intrigued by his aversion to the violence that’s an everyday part of Dauntless life, which is understandable given his background of abuse. The main reason I knocked off the half-star, though, is that I couldn’t help feeling like his character still could have been fleshed out even more. He has such an interesting backstory that, from an emotional perspective, only seems to come into play in bits and pieces, when I really wanted the author to dig deep. It was nice, though, to see some of the supporting characters from the series: Amar, Zeke, Uriah, Shauna, Jeanine, Eric, and how their stories evolved and intertwined with Four’s as well. Overall, this was a good read that I still liked a bit more than the Divergent series as a whole, and I look forward to reading more of these stories from Four’s POV....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Transfer begins with Tobias taking his aptitude test, which like Tris’s test, was administered by Tori. My oneReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" The Transfer begins with Tobias taking his aptitude test, which like Tris’s test, was administered by Tori. My one and only slight complaint and the reason I knocked off a half star is because I seem to recall Tori telling Tris (albeit reluctantly) that she was Divergent, whereas, she didn’t seem particularly phased by Tobias’s test and didn’t tell him anything about being Divergent. This seemed a little inconsistent with the rest of the series, so I’ll be interested to find out exactly how he learns this about himself.
Otherwise, I very much enjoyed The Transfer, in all honesty, even more so than the series as a whole. Even though I already knew about most of the information that’s revealed in this story, I found Tobias to be a compelling character. We get a glimpse of his life with his abusive father before he transfers factions on Choosing Day, as well as how he came to make the decision to leave Abnegation even though his aptitude test supposedly pegged him in the faction of his birth. I thought this showed him to be a courageous character to make that kind of stand. In addition, we get to see his first day in Dauntless initiation, how he fared compared to Tris, and how he came by the nickname Four.
I felt much more connected to Four as a character then I did when reading the rest of the Divergent series. I also, in many ways, found him to be a more interesting character than Tris, which is why I was rather surprised to read in Veronica Roth’s introduction to the book that she originally began writing the series in Tobias’s perspective, but then stalled out thirty pages into it because she didn’t feel like he was the right narrator for the story. She didn’t pick it back up again until four years later, when she came up with the character of Tris. I try not to second-guess authors, because as one myself, I know you can’t always please everyone and sometimes, you have to do what you think is right for your story. However, in this case, it’s my humble opinion that Tobias could have made a great narrator and perhaps I might have liked the Divergent series as a whole better if he had been. In any case, I look forward to reading the remaining stories in this anthology to learn more about him and his history....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews *newest review for this anthology "4.5 stars" Since all but one of the short stories contained in Four pre-date the rest of theReviewed for THC Reviews *newest review for this anthology "4.5 stars" Since all but one of the short stories contained in Four pre-date the rest of the Divergent series chronology, this book is now largely considered a prequel to the series. However, the stories contained in it were written and published after the rest of the series. IMHO, it’s better to read the series first and then read these stories as an addition. Otherwise, readers will get some significant spoilers for the main part of the series. Also, if read in this order, readers will already have an understanding of who Four is as a character as well as some knowledge of the common characters who are introduced in the series and the faction system as a whole.
The Transfer – The Transfer begins with Tobias taking his aptitude test, which like Tris’s test, was administered by Tori. My one and only slight complaint and the reason I knocked off a half star is because I seem to recall Tori telling Tris (albeit reluctantly) that she was Divergent, whereas, she didn’t seem particularly phased by Tobias’s test and didn’t tell him anything about being Divergent. This seemed a little inconsistent with the rest of the series, so I’ll be interested to find out exactly how he learns this about himself.
Otherwise, I very much enjoyed The Transfer, in all honesty, even more so than the series as a whole. Even though I already knew about most of the information that’s revealed in this story, I found Tobias to be a compelling character. We get a glimpse of his life with his abusive father before he transfers factions on Choosing Day, as well as how he came to make the decision to leave Abnegation even though his aptitude test supposedly pegged him in the faction of his birth. I thought this showed him to be a courageous character to make that kind of stand. In addition, we get to see his first day in Dauntless initiation, how he fared compared to Tris, and how he came by the nickname Four.
I felt much more connected to Four as a character then I did when reading the rest of the Divergent series. I also, in many ways, found him to be a more interesting character than Tris, which is why I was rather surprised to read in Veronica Roth’s introduction to the book that she originally began writing the series in Tobias’s perspective, but then stalled out thirty pages into it because she didn’t feel like he was the right narrator for the story. She didn’t pick it back up again until four years later, when she came up with the character of Tris. I try not to second-guess authors, because as one myself, I know you can’t always please everyone and sometimes, you have to do what you think is right for your story. However, in this case, it’s my humble opinion that Tobias could have made a great narrator and perhaps I might have liked the Divergent series as a whole better if he had been. In any case, I look forward to reading the remaining stories in this anthology to learn more about him and his history. Star Rating: ****1/2
The Initiate – The Initiate is the second novella in the Four collection that follows the character of Four during his early days in Dauntless a couple of years before meeting Tris in the main Divergent story. In this novella, we get to see some of his training as a Dauntless initiate. We discover the origins of his rivalry with Eric, and it makes a lot more sense now why these two were always at odds. The initiates engage in a game of Dare, which leads to Four getting his first tattoo and getting drunk for the first time. He also begins to build some tentative friendships with Shauna and Zeke, which is a big step for this loner, and we can start to see how he ended up as a Dauntless trainer. I think the most interesting part of the story, though, is when Four starts to realize there’s something different about him because of his ability to be conscious while in fear simulations. This leads him to recall his father’s insistent warning that he not do anything strange during his aptitude test. It’s also the first time we get an inkling of his understanding of being Divergent although it still hasn’t been called that, and he also realizes that he’ll need to cover his tracks and not do anything that might “out” himself.
Overall, there’s quite a bit going on in The Initiate for such a short novella, so things don’t get explored in as much detail as I might have liked. I think the reason it seemed this way is that I still can’t help feeling that Four either should have been the narrator of the Divergent series, or better yet, it should have been done in dual narration. I believe I would have felt much more connected to him in the main part of the series if it had been. So far, I’ve enjoyed getting these little glimpses into his perspective. In this story, I was particularly intrigued by his aversion to the violence that’s an everyday part of Dauntless life, which is understandable given his background of abuse. The main reason I knocked off the half-star, though, is that I couldn’t help feeling like his character still could have been fleshed out even more. He has such an interesting backstory that, from an emotional perspective, only seems to come into play in bits and pieces, when I really wanted the author to dig deep. It was nice, though, to see some of the supporting characters from the series: Amar, Zeke, Uriah, Shauna, Jeanine, Eric, and how their stories evolved and intertwined with Four’s as well. Overall, this was a good read that I still liked a bit more than the Divergent series as a whole, and I look forward to reading more of these stories from Four’s POV. Star Rating: ****1/2
The Son – In The Son, the third novella that explores Four’s life before meeting Tris in Divergent, he has completed the Dauntless initiation at the top of his class. As such, he’s eligible to choose pretty much any job he wants within the faction. He thinks he might want to be a trainer, but Max, one of the faction leaders, thinks he’s qualified for much more and wants him to go through the process of trying to become a Dauntless leader. This leads to a lot of contemplations on Four’s part as he tries to decide if this is what he wants to do with his life, while also continuing his rivalry with Eric for the same position. At the same time, Four accidentally discovers that there may be something foul afoot between Dauntless and Erudite, which makes him realize that hiding his “differences” are all the more important. Also for the first time, he hears the term Divergent applied to his awareness during simulations, and he also deals with a shocking revelation from his past.
The more of these novellas I read about Four, the more I’m convinced the Divergent series as a whole would have been better, IMHO, if either he had narrated it or if it had been done in dual narration. I’ve been enjoying these stories more than the main part of the series, and one of the reasons why is because they’re written in Four’s perspective. I feel like his character is really developing and coming alive in my mind’s eye far better than he ever did before. And for some reason, this particular story seemed to have an even deeper POV than the previous two or the series in general. Four is still the loner, preferring to take up residence in his own apartment after initiation, rather than with others within the faction, but he does still have a few friends. He also struggles between his two identities as someone who supposedly tested with an aptitude for Abnegation, but fearing his father’s abuse, chose to leave and become Dauntless. Four really starts figuring things out, both in his own life and in the events that are going on around him, which leads to more introspection. Overall, it was a really good read that I very much enjoyed. In addition to feeling more engaged in Four’s POV, I liked seeing more of the secondary characters who become a part of the main series: Eric, Zeke, Uriah, Shauna, Lynn, and Marlene. I also liked learning about the history of various plot points within the Divergent series and how those things came about. It was enlightening as well as entertaining, and very much makes me look forward to reading the final novella in this anthology. Star Rating: *****
*The Traitor – The Traitor was a nice wrap-up to the Four anthology and to the group of novellas that have now become widely viewed as prequels to the Divergent series. Despite that, I personally still think it’s better to at least read Divergent first. Otherwise, the reader will get major spoilers for that book and some things might not make a lot of sense. That’s especially true with this novella, which takes place pretty much simultaneously with events in Divergent. In this story, we learn how Four became aware of the unholy alliance between Dauntless and Erudite and their plans to attack Abnegation. He goes through some soul-searching as he tries to decide whether to warn his birth faction or not, as well as whether he can trust anyone enough to tell them these things. As he struggles with figuring those things out, he meets Tris and becomes her trainer, and we get to see some of the early parts of their relationship from his POV.
I think I’ve said it with each new novella I read in this series, but it might bear repeating that IMHO, the Divergent series as a whole would have been much better if it had been written in dual perspective. Getting Four’s POV on many of the events of the series has been great and has really helped to deepen my understanding of him as a character and some of the things that happened. It’s been so long since I read Divergent that I can’t recall precisely how the specific scenes in this novella compare to those same scenes in the main book from Tris’s POV, but I do recall complaining in my review of that book that the parts where Four takes Tris into his fear landscape along with their subsequent discussion and first kiss at the chasm afterward didn’t hold the emotional weight I felt they should have. Well, in this novella, that’s completely different, and I believe it’s all owed to the fact that we’re seeing what all this meant to Four. We learn why he chose to take Tris into his fear landscape and what it felt like for him going through that with her. We also get a richer conversation afterward and get to see his burgeoning feelings for her, too. It all made their relationship much more cohesive for me. The only reason I chose to knock off a half-star is because a few of the scenes seemed a bit repetitive with us only getting a slightly different perspective, but overall, I liked this novella a lot and really think that these scenes should have been included in the main Divergent book. Star Rating: ****1/2
Bonus Content – At the end of the book, we get three additional scenes from Divergent written from Four’s POV. First, is his reaction to Tris being the first jumper on choosing day. The second one continues with the events of choosing day in Dauntless, as Four gives the new transfers a tour of the facility and shares their first meal as new Dauntless initiates. The final one, I can’t recall the exact timing of, but I believe it’s later in the story, when a party is taking place in the Pit. Four has a little too much to drink and the alcohol loosens his tongue around Tris. Again, I felt like all of these scenes gave me valuable insights into Four’s mind and emotions and would have been helpful if included in the main story....more
**spoiler alert** Reviewed for THC Reviews ***I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but there are a number of things that bothered me about th**spoiler alert** Reviewed for THC Reviews ***I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but there are a number of things that bothered me about this book that I feel I can’t explain without giving some things away. So if you haven’t read the book but intend to, and don’t like spoilers of any kind, you probably shouldn’t read my review.***
Unlike most readers, I haven’t been completely enthralled by the Divergent series as a whole, but I had high hopes that this final installment would finally explain things better and wrap it all up in a satisfying way. Alas, that was not to be the case. If anything, Allegiant alienated me even further. I finished it last night, and I’m still feeling confused, angry, and depressed about the whole thing. Even though the world building in the first two book hadn’t been the absolute best I’ve seen, it was good enough that I didn’t feel this final book lived up to the promise I’d seen. I had numerous issues with the plotting and general storytelling, not the least of which is the sucky ending. There were just way too many things that weren’t explained well or didn’t make sense at all, leaving me frustrated. Try as I might, I haven’t been able to stop myself from drawing parallels between Divergent and The Hunger Games, and IMHO, The Hunger Games is a far superior book series.
On the upside, I didn’t have as much difficulty with the characterizations in this book as I did with the previous two. Both Tris’s and Tobias’s personalities were a little more even, rather than seeming like they were being pigeonholed into the factions for which they exhibited an aptitude. However, this could simply be the result of the faction system being dismantled, so the author probably wasn’t feeling the need to show the character’s various personality traits that would have made them suitable for the factions. Despite this being the case, I still didn’t relate to either Tris or Tobias all that well. They both tend to be a little hot-headed, running headlong into danger and often making rash decisions with which I didn’t agree that are based more on emotion than logic. Even though we actually get Tobias’s POV in this one too, I felt like his character was still on the weak side. One of those decisions I mentioned leads to him making a huge mistake and while he didn’t directly cause the ensuing mayhem, he did contribute to it by helping others who did. I also felt like his part in the story was overshadowed by Tris. For Tris’s part, I didn’t really like it when she throws it in Tobias face about how right she was after everything goes south. Yeah, she was right, but in that moment, Tris came off as being a little arrogant. I was happy to see that Tris found her capacity for forgiveness by the end, which is something that she’d struggled with throughout the series. But ultimately, these two characters never fully captured my heart and imagination in the same way that many others have.
Anyone who is categorizing these books, especially this final one, as romance, really needs to knock it off.:-) As a longtime romance reader and now writer of the genre, I can unequivocally say that they do not qualify. Yes, there is a love story in here, but it’s definitely secondary to other events. There’s very little of what I would call truly romantic interludes in any of the books. In this one, Tobias and Tris share a couple of brief romantic moments early in the book, but not long after they go outside the fence, they start arguing, and especially after Tobias’s big mistake, they’re at odds with one another and separated for a while. Eventually they do reconcile, leading to one more mildly romantic moment that was equally as short-lived as the others, and that’s about it. More than anything, though, my reason for disqualifying this book as romance is the lack of a happy ending. Many readers also call The Hunger Games romance, another genre classification with which I disagree, but I’d be more inclined to accept the romance label on that series than this one. In order to qualify as a true romance a book has to have a positive and emotionally satisfying ending for the romantic pairing, which Mockingjay more or less has, but Allegiant most definitely does not.
Even more so than my issues with the characterizations and the romance, I had trouble with a lot of things that simply didn’t make sense. For starters, the rebel characters (Tris, Tobias and the others from inside the city as well as a few allies from outside) are constantly having discussions pretty openly about how to defeat the Bureau within the walls of the Bureau’s own compound with seemingly no concerns whatsoever about whether someone loyal to the Bureau might overhear them or that someone might be listening in with surveillance equipment. Also for newcomers to the compound, they seem to have pretty broad access to what is essentially a government research facility, which was totally unbelievable to me even in a post-apocalyptic world. Next we discover that some of the initiates who were classified as Divergent weren’t really Divergent at all for the purposes of the Bureau’s genetic classifications. How this could be isn’t really explained except to say that they have some kind of genetic anomaly which makes them seem Divergent, which was not a particularly satisfying answer. Also, Tris seems to have some kind of special ability to resist serums that goes above and beyond most Divergent, but yet again, the reason for this isn’t really explained.
I also took issue with the memory and death serums and events surrounding the use of both. First how the memory serum works isn't explained well either. They merely say that it targets the memories of your life, essentially giving the person a permanent case of amnesia, rather than erasing the memory of how to do things, which wasn't very believable to me on a scientific level. Then there's the matter of how the memory serum was dispersed throughout the entire compound so that all the people in it were affected when the canister was located in the weapons lab on a subterranean level. There’s absolutely no explanation for this. Also once the memories of everyone in the compound were wiped, wouldn't the greater US government outside of the Chicago area have had a problem with all this and objected to Chicago ruling itself? As for the death serum, it’s supposedly so deadly that even a bio-hazard suit won't protect a person from it. So how did the scientists formulate and manufacture it in the first place without them all dying in the process? Not to mention the way in which the death serum works is pretty foggy. It almost seems like it would be some sort of chemical weapon that kills instantly or stops the heart, yet it appears to be more psychological in nature, since Tris can resist it like other serums. This was all very confusing and murky to me.
In addition to all this, I also found two more plot holes, which makes me wonder if there may have been even more things that didn’t even hit my radar. (Actually in hindsight and after reading several other reviews, it turns out there were a lot. I now know why so many other things didn’t feel right to me, not the least of which is the gigantic mess that was made of the genetics.) First of all, in the scene with Tris and David in the weapons lab, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how David got in there before her. I might be misremembering, but I thought the entrance she went through was the only way in, which is why the rebels had either needed a pass code for the security system or had to blow the doors open with explosives. Then there’s the matter of Tobias’s old friend, Amar, and his partner, George. They were said to be loyal to the Bureau, so them helping the kids get back into the city to inoculate their families against the memory serum seemed to contradict that loyalty. Now granted Tobias and company didn’t let Amar and George in on the entire plan to prevent the release of the memory serum in the city and to use it to take down the Bureau, but even what little they did know seems like something the Bureau would have been against. Not to mention, what about when they returned? Wouldn’t Amar have been upset to find the Bureau defeated? And Tobias had told George to inoculate himself against the serum, so surely he would have easily figured things out. None of this made any sense to me. As a little aside here, regarding the writing itself, much like with the first two books, it could have used quite a few more contractions to make the narrative and dialogue flow better.
****This is where I’m going to let a huge spoiler out of the bag, so if you don’t want to know, don’t read any further.**** Now despite all my many problems with plot holes and such, nothing bothered me more than the ending. One of our main characters dies, which I felt was completely unnecessary. I try very hard not to judge or second-guess authors for the way they choose to write a story, because as a writer, I know you usually have to follow your gut instincts. However, if you’re going to make a move as bold as killing off one of your main characters, you’d better make sure you’ve given your audience an extremely good reason for that death to occur and make them buy into the necessity of it happening, and that’s where I feel like Ms. Roth failed, which left me feeling betrayed as a reader. I can trace my feelings about this all the way back to the beginning of the book. From very early on, the story wasn’t sparking off the pages for me, mainly because there was very little action or sense of danger. The world outside the fence wasn’t really feeling like this big, bad, scary place that we were lead to believe it was. Now we do learn more about it as the story goes on, and yes, the Bureau was doing some pretty bad things. The people inside Chicago are basically little more than specimens in a petri dish being studied by the government scientists outside, but overall, they don’t come off as dark, dangerous, evil people, more like misinformed, even in their complicity surrounding the deaths of the Abnegation and all the chaos that’s taken place inside the fence since the civil war started.
This is where I can’t help going back to my comparison with the The Hunger Games in which the insidious nature of President Snow and the Capitol reaches all throughout Panem and into the reader’s mind to the point that I deeply feared him and would have gladly jumped into the story to kill him myself. I never once got that feeling with any of the characters in Allegiant, not even David (until the end), who is supposedly the leader of these misguided efforts. Ultimately, the character who dies does so while trying to prevent the people still inside from losing their memories, not some greater threat like dying themselves, which when added to the lack of suspense, IMHO, did not provide a good enough reason for a primary character to be killed off. If Katniss or Peeta had been killed in The Hunger Games, I would have been very pissed and extremely depressed, but I would have at least felt like they died for a greater purpose. With this character, it just felt like something of a waste, not only because the stakes weren’t high enough, but also because there are so many ways the author could have written it differently so that it didn’t have to happen. Case in point again with The Hunger Games or even the Harry Potter series: Ms. Collins and Ms. Rowling were able to kill of secondary characters that absolutely shredded me, leaving me in tears, without ever resorting to killing a main character to get their point across. In contrast, secondary characters die throughout the Divergent series, including in Allegiant, but I felt very little because I never got to know them well enough to truly mourn them. Even when the main character died, I didn’t shed any tears, not because I didn’t care at all, but because I was more angry than truly upset about it in the way one would be if they’d come to love the character, which is the opposite of what I should have felt. There should have been so much emotion wrung out of a moment like that that I couldn’t help but cry, but I just didn’t feel much of anything except depressed and ticked off.
Now that I’m done ranting about the ending, I’ll add a few comments from a parental perspective. As with the first two books, Allegiant is, IMO, still appropriate for a mature teenage audience. There are a few more expletives in this one, but still no more than ten or so. There’s no explicit sex, but there is one implied love scene. It’s mostly just some passionate kissing, followed by the characters removing their shirts and lying down. Then the door closed with no details of any kind until they wake up together the next morning. There is an implied gay relationship between two secondary characters, but it’s little more than a mention. As before, I think the major concern would be the violence, but even that was somewhat toned down in this book. As I’ve already mentioned, some characters die, which could be traumatic for a younger reader, so I’d advise discretion. I don’t recall most of the remaining violence being all that explicit, except for perhaps the scene where the rebels are trying to infiltrate the Bureau, and then only moderately so. So overall, I would deem it OK for probably 15-16 year olds and up, depending on maturity level.
As you can probably tell by now, I was less than impressed with the wrap up to this story. I gave it three stars, because up until the ending, it was still a fairly entertaining and easy read. I suppose I should give the author some credit as well for making me care enough to be upset about the ending. If not for that (IMHO) epic fail, I probably would have given it four stars, despite my other numerous problems with it, but I just couldn’t see any genuine justification for such a depressing denouement. I think Ms. Roth took the saying, “Once a Stiff, always a Stiff” way too far. Were the character’s actions selfless and admirable? Sure, but I saw no real need to write that scene the way she did. And apparently, unlike the first two books, I’m not in the minority on my opinion of this one. It seems to have mediocre marks across the board on Internet books sites, so even though I haven’t yet read any other reviews of it, I’m sure the author pissed off a whole lot of other readers besides me. Despite the book not living up to my expectations, I’ll probably watch the movie version just to see if they change anything to make the story more logical and palatable, but I’ll probably still be grinding my teeth at the ending. And I’ll also probably read, Four, the short-story collection about Tobias that’s a prequel to the series, just for the sake of completeness. But bottom line: If you’re looking for a great YA post-apocalyptic/dystopian story, stick with The Hunger Games. It has a whole lot more depth to the characters and plot and at least it has a hopeful ending too....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Much like with the first book of the Divergent series, I finished Insurgent with rather mixed feelings. This book and the seriReviewed for THC Reviews Much like with the first book of the Divergent series, I finished Insurgent with rather mixed feelings. This book and the series in general are reasonably entertaining reads that mostly keep me engaged, but at the same time, they aren't what I would call un-put-downable. No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to help drawing parallels between Divergent and The Hunger Games. In large part, The Hunger Games was so compelling, because the menace of The Capitol and President Snow can be felt so intensely. Also, everything is pretty much constantly life or death, and it's very difficult to tell who is friend and who is foe which ratchets up the suspense quite a bit. Any time a character dies, it's with tears and regrets on my part, because I feel like I've gotten to know them as individuals who will be deeply missed. With Divergent, I haven't felt the same kind of menace. We didn't even really know who was pulling the strings until the end of Divergent, and throughout Insurgent, I never felt like Jeanine was nearly as creepy and evil of a villain as President Snow. I don't think enough information was given to support her motivations, and with what little there is, I couldn't help feeling like she was more of a misguided soul who thought that she was doing what was best for everyone through questionable means, rather than a strong villain who is essentially trying to take control of the world – or at least her little corner of it. While there are certainly some life and death situations in Insurgent, I didn't feel them as intensely, in part because Tris generally has a decent sense of who can be trusted and who can't. Also when characters die (and several do), even though it's sad, I never cried or screamed “Noooo!” in my head, mainly because I never got to know any of them on a deep enough level to palpably feel their absence from the story. So while Insurgent, and the Divergent series as a whole, has been an agreeable diversion, it's more like mind candy that just hasn't quite lived up to my expectations thus far.
I would have to say that the main reason I haven't been as caught up in these stories are the characterizations. Tris, our intrepid heroine and first person narrator is a Divergent, which for anyone who isn't following the books, is a person who exhibits an aptitude for more than one of the designated factions within her dystopian society. As a long-time student of personality typing, I think there are certain personalities that are naturally “divergent,” and they tend toward being those persons who don't see the world in absolutes, but rather in many shades of gray. When I took the Faction Test in the back of my copy of Divergent, I tested Divergent, and if I'm remembering correctly, I had an aptitude for Amity, Abnegation, and Erudite. I can see how all of those apply to me, but ultimately, I'm simply who I am. I like what I like; I feel how I feel; and I believe what I believe. I don't try to fit into those faction categories; I just do by virtue of who I am. With that being said, there were times when I felt like the author was trying too hard to make Tris (and sometimes Four as well) fit into the faction molds for which they tested as having an aptitude. It was like she was thinking, “Oh, here I need to make her/him do X, so that they seem more like Abnegation or Dauntless or Erudite.” In my opinion, Ms. Roth didn't allow their personalities to develop in as organic of a way as she possibly could have, and I think they would have been better for it if she had. I feel like I would have understood them and related to them in a stronger, more meaningful way if that were the case. Instead, it felt like she was focused a little too narrowly on making them behave a certain way rather then letting them behave the way they wanted to. I strongly suspect that this is why both Tris and Four came off as being pretty enigmatic to me. Sometimes they seem hard, and unforgiving, while other times they seem more kind, and compassionate. Sometimes they are strong and fearless, while other times their fears can get the best of them. Sometimes they think outside the box, while other times they are calculating and logical. This made it feel like they were constantly all over the board with their emotions and actions running either hot or cold. In this way, it was like the fact that they were both Divergent seemed like it was almost continually in my face. It was like their state of being ruled them, when they should have ruled it.
As a couple, I feel like Tris and Four are a little too much alike to make a truly good match. They're both Divergent, they're both largely enigmatic, and they think and act a whole lot alike. Their personalities simply aren't as distinct as they probably should be for a successful romantic pairing or even for two main characters in the same story for that matter. Just because they're both Divergent doesn't mean that they can't and shouldn't be different in the way that they act, feel, and think. After all they are still unique individuals, or at least they should be, but to my way of thinking, they don't come off that way. In general, I'm still having a hard time comprehending the reasons for their attraction to one another. In the first book, they didn't spend all that much time together and now that they're in each other's company almost constantly, one would think the why of their chemistry would be more obvious, yet I still didn't feel much of an emotional connection between them. I think the main reason for this is that they're both terrible communicators. They both continue to play it very close to the vest, only revealing what they absolutely have to about themselves and their feelings. I never really saw a good reason for this, especially on Tris's part. I can definitely see how Four might have deep-seated trust issues stemming from his past abuse, but Tris had a good upbringing with parents who loved her deeply. I've said many times before in my reviews, that for me, trust is a major component of a romantic relationship, perhaps equally if not more important than love, yet this seems to be the thing that Tris and Four have the least of, and in many ways, it's to their detriment as both individuals and as a couple. There were many times throughout the story that Tris kept things from Four and to be fair, he did a few times as well, at least to the extent that we know what he's thinking. This was bad enough, but there was one instance where he asked her something point blank, giving her the perfect opportunity to come clean, but she lied, leaving me stunned. Behavior like this is always frustrating to me, especially when there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason for it.
As of yet, the Divergent series hasn't shown up on the ALA's banned/challenged books list, which is surprising considering that The Hunger Games has been on it for several years running and the two book series are quite similar. The 2014 list isn't due out until next month though, so anything can happen. As always, I'm anti-book banning, and as a parent of a teenager, I would have no issue with my child reading these books. As with the first book of the series, Insurgent contains a fair bit of violence, which is probably going to be the most troublesome element to sensitive readers. There are quite a number of shootings, stabbings, and fistfights, most of which aren't rendered all that graphically. There is, however, one real-time execution of a prisoner by a prominent character, and a threat of execution made against Tris while she's being held prisoner. There is also a somewhat disturbing scene in which a young boy is shot point-blank in the head right next to Tris, and another scene in which a couple of girls step off a roof while under mind control. I also had rather mixed feelings about how Four goes about putting his father, Marcus, in his place. As I mentioned earlier, several characters die, some of whom we don't know at all and others whom we've gotten to know a little. In most of these instances, the author doesn't linger over them for a particularly long time before moving on though. There is no sex, but Tris and Four share a number of kisses, some more passionate than others, as well as some touching, and in a couple of these cases, their intimacies arouse some sensual feelings within her body. They sleep together platonically for comfort a couple of times too. Otherwise, aside from a couple of mild bad words and a little bit of name-calling (eg. “Stiff” to refer to members of Abnegation), I can't think of anything else that could be potentially objectionable, so in my opinion, the book is appropriate for a mature teen audience.
Insurgent is a book that has both its good points and not-so-good points. In addition to the characterization issues I had with it, on the down side, I still feel like the author's writing style is a little too simplistic for it's intended young adult audience. There just isn't a lot of nuance to it. She often uses simple sentence structures and very basic word choices, which were most apparent in the use of "be" verbs or extremely simple action verbs like “get” when stronger action verbs would have made the prose more vibrant. As with the first book, this one could definitely have used a lot more contractions. I understand that some of the factions like Erudite and Abnegation speak a little more formally, but the Dauntless definitely don't. Tris, being one of them, probably shouldn't have either spoken or thought (since it's all written in her POV) that way. I'm quite surprised the editors didn't catch both of these things, since they seem so obvious. On the upside, where I found the first book to be quite predictable, the author did manage to surprise me with a couple of plot twists toward the end of Insurgent that I didn't see coming. Although the world-building hasn't quite sucked me in as fully as some other books have and it could have had been a little more well-thought-out, I did enjoy getting to know some of the other groups, like Amity, Candor, and the Factionless, of whom we saw virtually none in the first book. Also, the way in which this book ends and the secret that is revealed in its final pages have sufficiently whetted my appetite to finish the series. Overall, Insurgent might not be the best young adult, dystopian science-fiction story I've ever read, but I can't deny that it offers a certain degree of entertainment value for the reader who is willing to overlook its weaknesses....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Hunger Games Trilogy as a whole has been incredible, and Mockingjay was a very fitting end to the series. IMHO, it was eveReviewed for THC Reviews The Hunger Games Trilogy as a whole has been incredible, and Mockingjay was a very fitting end to the series. IMHO, it was every bit as good as the first two books, only now the fire of revolution has spread through Panem, making the entire country the 'arena' in a battle for freedom and equality. I've noticed that this final installment has slightly lower ratings than the first two, and although I haven't really read the reviews yet to find out why, I can speculate. My guess is that some found the ending too melancholy, and admittedly, it is bittersweet. Happiness and peace is finally achieved, but those who survive the war are forever changed in profound and irreversible ways. The losses are staggering, yet hope still blooms amidst the ashes of destruction, both of physical property, as well as hearts and minds. Mockingjay paints a pretty grim and realistic picture of the cost of warfare, especially the personal cost to those who fight the war, and why striving for peace is so very important. At the same time, it shows that sometimes peace can only be achieved through the confrontation and ultimate destruction of an evil and unjust regime. This entire series is incredibly powerful and emotionally moving, and this final book is a definite tear-jerker. Oddly enough though, I didn't cry while reading it. I think there just wasn't time to process what was happening with our heroine still in an intense battle for survival. However, the floodgates opened after I turned the final page, at which point I think I was grieving along with Katniss for the loss of characters I'd come to care about, as well as the loss of so many innocent lives on both sides of the war. It's very rare for any book to provoke this kind of response from me, but somehow Suzanne Collins managed it. For this reason, and many others I highly recommend this book and the entire series.
Katniss is no longer simply the girl on fire. She's become the Mockingjay, a symbol of hope and inspiration to the rebel armies of Panem. Unfortunately, in this role, she is still little more than a pawn in a political game. They use her to make propaganda videos for their cause and she is a unifying figure, but due to her unpredictability and penchant for getting into trouble, she's rarely allowed into the fight itself. Luckily, Katniss is a very independent and smart girl, who on some level has learned how to play their game and usually only allows them to do what she feels will be helpful in some way to the cause. As with the first two books though, she has a tendency to underestimate her value to everyone and the influence she wields over people who all tend to love and respect her. She only sees herself as an ordinary girl who's nothing special, and without Peeta's encouragement, this is where others like her sister, Prim, and her mentor, Haymitch, step in to be the voice of reason. Katniss is a tough girl who won't take crap from anyone and marches to the beat of her own drummer, but she can also have a compassionate side. She rarely kills unless forced to do so in self-defense or defense of others, and even then, she carries a heavy burden of responsibility on her shoulders for all the deaths that she believes she's caused whether by her own hand or involuntarily. Her first priority is always to keep those she loves safe, and every time she can't, it kills a little piece of her soul. Katniss is a wonderful person with many positive qualities, but as we see in the end, she's not Superwoman. Even she has limits on what she can take and still come out the other side as a functional member of society. However, at that point, we also see that she's no longer just the Mockingjay, but a Phoenix, rising from the ashes of a war-torn home and life, which adds yet another layer to her already complex character. She may never be quite the same again, but above all, she's a fighter who earned her peace and contentment with her own blood, sweat, and tears.
Another thing that some readers may not have cared for in this book is the lack of Peeta's calming influence and congenial personality that was such a big part of the first two books. At the end of Catching Fire, we discover that he was imprisoned by the Capitol, and he remains captive for the first half or so of this book. Despite the physical distance though, we can still see him trying to protect Katniss the best he knows how. Even after he's freed, he's no longer the same person because of the torture inflicted upon him by President Snow, which leaves a lot of emotional distance as well. Every once in a while we see glimmers of the old Peeta, but by and large, he's a very confused young man. While Peeta is physically and emotionally absent, Gale takes up some of the slack from a romantic perspective. He makes no secret that he's still in love with Katniss and views Peeta as a rival for her affections. Gale is certainly appealing in his own way, but I must admit, I've never been much of a fan of love triangles. Not to mention, Peeta has held my affections throughout this series and is still one of my all-time greatest literary crushes. It was difficult to have him so distant throughout, but I think in some ways, it was also imperative to Katniss finally confronting her feelings for both young men and figuring out what each of them means to her.
For the last several years, The Hunger Games Trilogy has made the ALA's list of most banned/challenged books, but as a parent of teenagers, I would have no problem with teens approximately 14-15 and up reading it, depending on their sensitivity level. The subject matter has become a bit more mature with each installment, but that's to be expected when following characters who are changing and growing with the story. IMHO, the thing that would be most troublesome is the violence. There is admittedly an increase in the violence level in this book as compared to the first two, because revolution has broken out and the country is at war. The reality though, is that war is hell, and that point is definitely hammered home here in the deaths of many innocent people, including some that readers will have grown to care about, as well as trained military fighters. The body count is admittedly very high. Some deaths are seen in real-time; others are just heard about through intelligence and the news. Regardless of how they occur, I never felt like it was gratuitous or inappropriate to the story being told. No matter how heartbreaking they are, each death has a purpose. Also in most cases, they're handled in a relatively matter-of-fact way, with the death occurring and then the other characters moving on fairly quickly. The author doesn't tend to linger in the moment or describe the scenes in gory, bloody details. She relies more on the psychological fall-out to get her point across.
Another thing that might be concerning to parents is that several characters carry suicide pills to prevent themselves from being taken alive by Capitol forces and tortured for information. Some of them also have unspoken pacts to shoot each other for the same reason. At one point in the story, Katniss begins to have suicidal thoughts herself, but after all the horrors she's endured, it's pretty understandable. For obvious reasons, these parts of the story might not be appropriate for teens who have suffered from depression or suicidal tendencies, but this would really be my only concern. Haymitch still has a drinking problem, and Katniss describes the effects of being on morphling, but it's been prescribed for legitimate reasons. Otherwise, there is little objectionable content. There are no profanities, and the sexual content is extremely limited. A character mentions being sold for sex, but it's worded very delicately. Katniss shares a couple of tender kisses, one of which stirs some feelings in her body, and there is one brief, veiled reference to love-making (absolutely no details), which might even go over the heads of less sophisticated readers. Overall, I'd say that the positive messages outweigh any potentially controversial content. It's a story about standing up for what's right in the face of pure evil, and trying to create a better world for everyone, no matter the cost. It's about friendship, loyalty, courage, family, love, and compassion for others. Most of all, it's a story about finding hope in the most hopeless of circumstances, that even when it feels like you've lost everything, hope still springs anew and can blossom out of the rubble of destruction. With all this in mind, I personally think it would be a travesty to take these books out of the hands of young people.
I can't express just how much of a genius storyteller Suzanne Collins is. She seems to instinctively know how to write in such a way that keeps the reader turning the pages. Every chapter ends with a mini-cliffhanger to keep the reader on the edge of their seat throughout. Mockingjay has the tension of any good psychological or political thriller. In fact, the political machinations in this one are far-reaching with lots of twists and turns, leaving Katniss, and the reader, never truly certain who can be trusted. Throughout every chapter, I felt like I was right there in the thick of the revolution with Katniss, experiencing all the terror, heartbreak, and confusion right along with her. She's one of the most dynamic first-person narrators I've ever read, and I never felt a moment of boredom while reading the entire Hunger Games Trilogy. I truly can't recommend this series highly enough to both mature teens and adults alike. It's an amazing story that's sure to stick with me for a very long time to come and be re-read many times over. Now, I can't wait to see the Mockingjay movies....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Divergent is proving to be a tough book for me to review, because I finished it with very mixed feelings. The premise behind tReviewed for THC Reviews Divergent is proving to be a tough book for me to review, because I finished it with very mixed feelings. The premise behind the story is quite good and intriguing, but ultimately, I felt like the execution was somewhat lacking and not quite up to the standard I expected based on the outrageously high ratings it has on GoodReads and other book-related sites. I can see why many are enamored of this book, but IMHO, it wasn't as good as similar books I've read. Because of its dystopian setting and its tough, teenage, female protagonist, the comparisons to The Hunger Games are inevitable. While I go into reading every book, trying to judge it on its own merits, I have to admit it was difficult for me to avoid drawing those comparisons too. Whereas, I was engrossed and enthralled by the world of The Hunger Games, the Divergent world didn't quite draw me in the same way. Whereas, I always felt like I understood Katniss even when she made choices I personally wouldn't have, Beatrice often confused me. Whereas, I totally fell head over heels for Peeta, who is now one of my all-time greatest literary crushes, Four didn't quite capture my heart. Whereas, I was very emotionally invested in Katniss and Peeta's romance, Tris and Four's romance seemed lackluster by comparison and just didn't have the same depth of emotion. As I'm sure you can tell, Divergent simply didn't meet the high standard set for me by The Hunger Games, but I'll admit it was good enough to make me want to continue with the series.
Beatrice aka Tris is the first-person narrator of the story. She was born into a dystopian world in which everyone is separated into five different factions based on their personalities and beliefs. At the age of sixteen, which Tris now is, she must choose whether to stay in Abnegation, the faction into which she was born, or switch factions, but to do so would mean leaving her family. Tris obviously loves her family, which made her choice to join a different faction a difficult one, but in her heart, she felt like she didn't belong there anymore. To top if all off, the aptitude test she took before the Choosing Ceremony labeled her a Divergent, someone who doesn't fit neatly into any one faction. She is also told never to speak of her result, because anyone knowing this information could be extremely dangerous for her. As Tris goes through the initiation into her chosen faction, she proves herself to be a very worthy candidate. She's tough as nails and never gives up even when things get rough. In this respect, I'd say she was an admirable character and a good role model. However, where I found myself having problems with Tris is in her seemingly contradictory personality. Sometimes, she could show brief moments of compassion and kindness, but more often than not she squelched those feelings, which sometimes led her to being cruel and callous. She loves and misses her family and faction to an extent, but also doesn't seem to have any real qualms or regrets about taking an independent stand. She sometimes thinks of herself as weak, but exhibits a great deal of strength. One minute she's upset, maybe even crying, in a moment of vulnerability; the next, she shuts down her emotions and turns cold and angry. Ultimately, Tris was a big bundle opposites that made it difficult for me to get an emotional read on her. I strongly suspect that the author was attempting to use this dichotomy to express Tris's Divergence, but having her bounce around from one behavior and feeling to another was simply confusing to me. I think Ms. Roth could have found a better way to show that Tris was different without turning her into an enigma. As she was written, I can't really say whether I liked Tris or not. Sometimes, I very much admired her actions, and other times, I was very disappointed in her thoughts and behavior. I think the thing that bothered me the most was her seeming unforgiving nature, especially toward anyone who ever wronged her, even in small ways. I think an author can show a character to be strong without making them appear cold and unfeeling toward others, especially when Tris was raised in a faction that was the exact opposite. So, in the end, I'd say I have rather ambiguous feelings toward Tris. She was an OK character, but not one that I found to be compelling enough to carry the entire story on her small shoulders.
One of the drawbacks to writing a story in first-person POV is that the secondary characters can become little more than window dressing. Unless they're in the hands of an extremely talented writer who knows how to bring them to life through the eyes of the narrator, they can be difficult for the reader to get to know, and that's largely how I felt about the supporting players in Divergent. The most important character besides Tris is her love interest, Four. He is one of the trainers of the initiates and eventually becomes more than that to her. When Four first appeared, he was an intriguing character, someone whose philosophy is honorable and stands out in stark contrast to that of the other trainer and faction leader, Eric, who is cruel and ruthless. However, I correctly guessed two of the most important pieces of information about Four long before they were revealed, making those parts rather anti-climactic. There were tidbits of ingredients sprinkled throughout the book which if nurtured could have made Four a real stand-out character, but overall, I felt like he didn't live up to the potential. A large part of the reason he didn't is that he and Tris never really shared much in the way of meaningful interactions or conversations that would show what makes him tick. The only thing I can think of is Four allowing Tris into his fear landscape, which showed a certain level of trust in her, but they don't really discuss the experience afterward. I truly wanted to love Four in the same way so many other fans seem to, but ultimately, much like with Tris, I couldn't get a strong enough impression of him as a person to feel like I knew him. As to most of the other characters, they tend to fall into prescribed roles of friend and foe and rarely deviate from that. The one time someone does, I was stunned by this character going from good to bad in a heartbeat, and never understood what would drive him to do what he did. Overall, there was just enough development to make me care about some of the supporting players, but I never really felt like I truly got to know any of them on the deep level I crave.
As a parent, I feel that Divergent is suitable for the young adult age group for which it is intended. As with many dystopian novels, the element which would probably be of primary concern is the violence. There is a fair bit of this, but I felt it wasn't nearly as graphic as it could have been. However, it can get somewhat brutal at times. The initiate training can seem rather severe with the kids beating up on each other until one is knocked out cold and/or bleeding. They also do other dangerous things and often get injured. A character is stabbed in the eye with a knife. Tris is kidnapped by some villainous boys who threaten to kill her and inappropriately touch her. A character presumably commits suicide. They must face their fears inside a fear simulation which could be troublesome if the reader experiences any of the same fears as the characters. In the end, a war breaks out in which many are killed, including some characters readers have come to care about. This also necessitates Tris and Four carrying firearms and killing others in self-defense. Otherwise, there is little in the way of objectionable content. I believe I counted only three mild profanities. Four is seen a bit buzzed on alcohol in one scene and others are drunk in the background. Tris and Four share some kisses that gradually get more passionate as the story progresses, but there isn't much in the way of sexual content. There is one scene where Four removes his shirt while they are alone together, which stirs some fluttery feelings in Tris, but overall, any sexual references are pretty minimal and mostly veiled.
For a dystopian novel, I felt like Divergent moved rather slowly for about the first ¾ of the book. It focuses pretty narrowly on Tris's initiate training with a sprinkling of tidbits here and there to show that things in the world at large are not as perfect as they seem and that tensions are rising. There is some action and adventure as Tris goes through her initiation process, just enough to hold my attention, but what I really wanted to know was how this deviant world and its factions came to be. Unfortunately, there was really no backstory to explain all this, which was disappointing. Even the explanation of why it was dangerous to be a Divergent wasn't revealed quickly enough to suit me, but I did like the ideas behind it once I fully understood it. Then after plodding along, everything finally escalates at a breakneck pace during the last 100 pages or so. I would have preferred if the political jockeying had been woven in a little more prominently and sooner to build more suspense and an overall sense of the peril that was to come.
The last thing that kind of bothered me about Divergent is the writing itself. Despite being classified as young adult, this book is written at about a fifth grade reading level. Most of the time, the author's word choices and sentence structure are pretty simplistic, which made it quick and easy to read, but difficult for me to connect with because of its lack of sophistication. I know many readers enjoy the spare type of writing style that Veronica Roth employs, but I much prefer the richer complexities of language that paint vivid word pictures and metaphors. When used well, it allows me a window, not only into the mind of the characters, but the writer herself. When Ms. Roth isn't writing overly simple sentences, she has a tendency to use run-on sentences which IMHO needed to be broken up to maintain the flow. She also needed way more contractions than what she used. As written, the wording was often stilted, especially in dialog. I honestly couldn't envision a group of goth-like daredevils speaking in such a formal manner, so I had to contract the words in my own mind.
After all my many criticisms, readers might wonder why I still chose to give this book four stars. In all honesty, I'm not entirely sure I can explain it myself. As I mentioned when I started this review, I have very mixed feelings about Divergent. It does have a measure entertainment value, as I wasn't really bored while reading it. It also has a certain appeal in its world-building, enough so that being left with an unfinished ending makes me want to continue. As much as I didn't feel like I got to know the characters well enough to genuinely say I liked them, I, at least, liked them well enough to be curious about what happens next for them. In this respect, I guess one could say Ms. Roth was successful in her mission as a writer, because even though I thought the story could have been much better constructed, she still sufficiently peaked my interest to make me come back for more. And this I suppose, is the main reason I still felt compelled to give Divergent a favorable rating despite its many shortcomings....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Warm Bodies is probably the most unique work of fiction I've ever read. It is a tale of post-apocalyptic human surReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" Warm Bodies is probably the most unique work of fiction I've ever read. It is a tale of post-apocalyptic human survival against a zombie horde, except in this case, the main character and first-person narrator is one of the zombies. Said zombie is an existential philosopher who is trying to discern his reason for living (or being undead as the case may be). All of this is couched in a love story, although I hesitate to classify it as romance like many other readers do. It just simply isn't written in the style of romance, nor are the emotions as palpable as they are in most romance novels. However, I will certainly allow that love is a driving force in the story and without it there couldn't have been the happy ending that is classic to romances.
In my opinion, what makes this story so unique is it's protagonist, a zombie simply known as R. He can no longer remember the name he had when he was one of the Living, but he recalls the first letter being R. He spends his days in an often stupefied state at the old airport which is inhabited by his hive, lumbering around and groaning. Despite his outward appearance and actions, R has a rich inner thought life in which he analyzes his existence as a zombie. At his heart, R is a philosopher, but even though he can ruminate on the deeper meaning of life and death, he cannot remember enough human speech to verbalize much of what he's thinking, and even if he could, there is no one around who would care. I liked that R exhibited an unusual sense of morality for a creature such as himself. Although his “wild nature” drives him to hunt humans, he's not entirely comfortable with doing it. He's also a collector of human artifacts, which I saw as a way for him to remain linked to his humanity. Something inside R begins to fundamentally change the day he goes hunting and eats the brain of a young security officer named Perry. R promptly starts feeling guilty about this, because through consuming the scrumptious morsel, he becomes privy to all of Perry's thoughts and memories. Some of his most compelling memories are of his time with a girl named Julie. Essentially living vicariously through Perry's memories, R decides that Julie, who was present when Perry and most of the other members of her salvage crew were killed, is not someone to be eaten, but someone to be protected. He takes her back to the airport with him, and she becomes the first person he has ever really tried to communicate with since being turned zombie. Together, they embark on an adventure in which they must try to figure out why R's interactions with Julie have begun to change him, why some of those changes seem to be transferring to other zombies in his hive, and whether they might be able to stop or even reverse the effects of the plague that made the zombies.
Julie is the main female character, but we only see her through R's eyes. Because of this, there were times when I felt like something was missing. There wasn't quite sufficient explanation about who she was as a person and her motivations for doing certain things. She's had a pretty rough life in which she had to grow up fast in a world that was crumbling around her. She's a brave spitfire who doesn't really take any grief from anyone, and she has a curious nature too. This may be part of why she's so open toward R almost from the start. She sees that he's different from other zombies she's encountered, and after a short period of fear, she becomes almost blasé about being friends with him. This is where being privy to her thoughts would have helped me to understand her motives better, but as I read further and learned more about her life, my understanding of her character gradually became clearer.
There are a few secondary characters who play significant roles. Perry, despite being dead, lives on in R. The way in which he begins communicating with R reminded me somewhat of the relationship between Melanie and Wanderer in Stephanie Meyer's The Host. Perry was an intriguing character who appeared to be a rather doom and gloom person. He had essentially decided his life was all but over anyway and that he probably wouldn't live much longer. I think I understood what fueled this attitude in him, but again, like with Julie, it would have been nice to know a little more about him. Perry, in effect, becomes R's conscience, driving him to seek more from life. Julie's best friend, Nora, is another kick-butt girl who doesn't take any crap. R's zombie friend, M, also recognizes when things begin to change and helps lead the revolt. Then there is Julie's father, the general in charge of the human security forces, who unfortunately has become so blinded by his own hatred for the zombies, he won't listen to reason when Julie tries to tell him that she thinks she may have found a way to start curing them. Luckily, his second in command and Julie's surrogate grandfather, Rosso, sees what his friend doesn't.
It appears that one of the major genre categories for Warm Bodies is young adult fiction which makes sense given the age of the protagonists. Although their ages aren't outright specified, it is implied that Julie, Perry and Nora are still teenagers, but in many ways they act older, probably due to their circumstances. No one really knows how old R is, but there is some speculation that he was probably only in his twenties when he was turned. Given the young adult classification, there is some content in the book to which parents might object. For starters, there is quite a bit of language, including frequent uses of the f-word. Given that most of the characters appear to be teenagers, there is also some underage drinking going on. Sex is more talked about than actually described, but there is some mature content in that respect. Some of the things that occur: R briefly describes zombie sex which is basically a poor imitation of human sex, a character watches porn, a character's arousal is implied, a character tells of having prostituted herself at the age of thirteen, and a boyfriend and girlfriend are mentioned to have made love several times. When looked at in perspective, none of these things, language, drinking or sex, are terribly surprising though, given the rough nature of the post-apocalyptic setting in which people are struggling for day to day survival and social niceties have, for the most part, become a thing of the past. Of course, last but not least is the violence and gore. More than once the zombies go on hunting raids, looking for humans to eat, and sometimes, the consumption of human flesh is described. At times, it made me a little squeamish, but overall, I didn't think it was overly graphic. There are some good messages for young people here too about standing up for what's right, looking for common ground to solve differences, not giving up even though things seem hopeless, and the fact that love can heal a multitude of hurts. Overall though, given the content and the philosophical nature of the book which might be difficult for younger readers to understand anyway, I would only feel comfortable recommending it to readers sixteen and up who wouldn't be bothered by any of the things I mentioned.
In Warm Bodies, Isaac Marion has crafted a very unusual story that was an enjoyable read. I liked the world-building here, and he described everything in a way that was easy to envision. He's also a master of metaphor. Not only is he clever with a turn of phrase, but the entire story becomes a metaphor for hate, avarice and a plethora of other sins, a morality tale of sorts. While it was a very well put together story, I wouldn't say it was perfect. In addition to some character motivations being a bit murky as I mentioned earlier, the pacing was a little slow in places, especially given the post-apocalyptic setting filled with zombies. This novel is written in present-tense which I think was appropriate, but the author has a tendency to frequently use present perfect tense when I thought simple present tense would have given the narrative more punch and a greater sense of immediacy. Despite me zoning out a little during the earlier parts of the book, the ending was pretty action-packed, keeping me on the edge of my seat. For this reason and because of the delightful oddity of the story, I decided it was worthy of keeper status. While Warm Bodies is a self-contained story, it does leave some room for a continuation which it appears Mr. Marion is working on as we speak. There are also some short stories he wrote which are set in the same world and star the same characters. I'll be looking forward to checking those out while waiting for the next installment in the series....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews Catching Fire was a fabulous follow-up to The Hunger Games and the second book in the series of the same name. I wasn't sure wReviewed for THC Reviews Catching Fire was a fabulous follow-up to The Hunger Games and the second book in the series of the same name. I wasn't sure what Suzanne Collins could do that would possibly top The Hunger Games, but somehow she managed to create a book that was equally good if not slightly better than the first. It had plenty of action, adventure, and taut suspense that kept me turning the pages. There were a number of surprises along the way, as well as plot twists and turns to keep me on my toes, and the cliffhanger ending makes me so glad that I already have the final book of the trilogy on my TBR pile, ready to read as soon as I have the time.
Katniss is no longer just the girl on fire. With her winning the 74th Hunger Games in a way that was perceived as rebellious to the Capitol, she has unintentionally sparked a mutiny among the people of Panem. She has become an unwitting, and at times, unwilling, symbol of hope in the face of hopelessness, and President Snow will do just about anything to squash that before it gets out of control. Katniss, on the other hand, would do just about anything to protect the people she loves from the Capitol's threats, including sacrificing herself. She is a very strong, independent-minded young woman who doesn't take kindly to being used as a pawn. She likes to live life on her own terms and when someone takes away her choices, she automatically fights back. Katniss is also a young woman with very conflicted emotions. She thinks she might be in love with her long-time friend, Gale, but at the same time, she can't deny that she feels something for Peeta as well, although what exactly that is, she's not sure. I think that in some ways, she fights her feelings for both of them, but more so for Peeta, because she views him as the Capitol's choice. A match between her and Peeta is what the Capitol wants and more than anything Katniss desires to distance herself from their manipulations. Still, she harbors a reluctant respect for Peeta and often finds herself turning to him for help and comfort.
Being the only other person Katniss personally knows besides Haymitch who has survived the Hunger Games, Peeta understands her and what she's going through in a way that no one else does. Survival for them came at a high price. Both suffer from nightmares of their time in the arena, and both of them are being unwillingly pushed into their roles as victors and mentors. Peeta finds outlets for his pain through his art and his words. Katniss doesn't possess his talents, so he becomes a strong shoulder for her to lean on when her own strength fails her. Peeta is a young man with an underlying, internal strength that is sometimes easy to miss, and for that, I absolutely adore him. He is smart, resourceful, and affable, naturally winning over nearly everyone with whom he comes in contact. He is peaceful and diplomatic and would far rather negotiate with someone than kill them. But I think that perhaps Peeta's greatest strength lies in his unwavering and devoted love for Katniss. She is his whole world, and he would do anything to protect her. Peeta is definitely going to go down as one of my greatest literary crushes of all time.
I mentioned in my review of The Hunger Games that for the last couple of years, the series has made the top five on the ALA's most banned/challenged books list. In my opinion the maturity level increased a bit from the first book, but as a parent of teens, I still no problem with teenagers of about 14-15 and up reading it. The violence level has increased somewhat in this book, because it is no longer contained only in the arena. It has begun to spread as the people rise up in protest and the Capitol responds with greater brutality. Several characters die in various ways throughout the story or are severely punished, but when taking into account the fact that a revolution has been sparked, it was not nearly as violent as it could have been. It was less about graphic details and more about eliciting an emotional response from the reader through the use of suspense and an overall sense of peril throughout. However, I will admit that the violence has the highest potential of being objectionable content. There is no bad language, and little in the way of sexual content. A couple of characters engage in nudity or near-nudity, but it is intended more to intimidate other characters than to titillate, and as with the first book, there is a scene where it is done in the context of helping someone who's injured. There are several tender kisses, one of which turns a bit more passionate with mild descriptions of how Katniss's body is responding. Two characters often share a bed, but nothing more occurs between them. On the positive side, there are many wonderful messages to be gleaned from this book about loyalty, love, courage, friendship, what it means to be a family, and doing what's right in the face of evil.
Overall, I can't recommend Catching Fire and the series in general highly enough. It was very difficult to put down and I was always anxious to get back to it. Ms. Collins has a real talent for ending each chapter with a strong hook that keeps the reader coming back for more. With the cliffhanger ending, I can't wait to read the final book to see how everything turns out, and I'm also eagerly awaiting the movie version that will be released in a few months (Nov. 2013)....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews The Hunger Games was another great young adult book that definitely lived up to the hype for me. It was a gripping, suspensefuReviewed for THC Reviews The Hunger Games was another great young adult book that definitely lived up to the hype for me. It was a gripping, suspenseful science fiction story of a dystopian society in which kids between the ages of twelve and eighteen are forced by the government each year to compete in a gladiator type of fight to the death as a way to keep the citizens in line and prevent them from rebelling. There is also the beginnings of a sweet, tender romance between the two main characters, Katniss and Peeta. I wouldn't classify the book as a romance though, because this is definitely not the main focus of the story, but it is an inextricable part of it that is deftly woven throughout the plot. The first section of the book, leading up to The Hunger Games is a tad slow, but once the Games begin, it quickly becomes a taut, suspense/thriller as the characters engage in the ultimate fight for survival. From that point on, I could barely put it down, and more than once found myself reading much longer than I had intended to.
Katniss is a very intelligent girl and the first-person narrator of the story. She is a scrappy survivor who was forced into the role of caretaker for her family at the tender age of eleven, when her father was killed in the mines and her mother became deeply depressed and emotionally checked out on life. Even though her mother finally came back to them, Katniss is still understandably angry with her for not being there for them during that time, but deep down she loves her too. Katniss adores her delicate, little sister Prim and would do anything for her, including taking her place in The Hunger Games. Even though she doesn't think she has much of a chance of winning, she feels more capable of handling the Games than Prim would be. Katniss has spent so much time taking care of her family that I think she's forgotten how to just be a girl. She's had to be tough in order to keep them all alive. As a consequence, she's buried most of her emotions, but some of them begin to stir back to the surface during the Games. She doesn't even realize how alluring she is to others, instead crediting people's interest in her as nothing more than them having known her father or loving her little sister, so when Peeta admits he cares for her, she doesn't believe it. There was a part of me that wished Katniss would have a little more faith in Peeta, especially after all he'd done for her, but another part of me understood where she was coming from. She truly believed it was somehow his strategy for winning the Games, and she was also trying to distance herself from him in the event it came down to her having to kill him. When it comes to romance though, Katniss thought more like a guy. It was actually kind of amusing that she believed Peeta was just acting like he loved her, when it was obvious to pretty much everyone but her that he was completely sincere.
Peeta is a very sweet hero, who is really more of a lover than a fighter. He is the humble son of a baker and has a kind and gentle heart. Just like Katniss, he doesn't think he has a prayer of winning the Games, so any strategy he has primarily relies on playing sympathetically to the masses and also like Katniss, surviving by his wits. Peeta is an intuitive young man who sees things in Katniss that no one else does, including herself. I love the selfless way he always tries to protect her and make her look good, even though she thinks it's nothing more than his strategy for winning the Games. I also liked that he is looking for a way to use the Games to send a message to the Capitol, and how he doesn't want to allow the Games to change him into someone he's not. If he can't survive, he wants more than anything to just die with some dignity. We only get to see Peeta through Katniss's eyes, so there were a couple of times I would have liked to know a little more of what was going through his mind, but for the most part, his feeling came through loud and clear in his actions.
For the last couple years, The Hunger Games has made the top five on the ALA's most banned/challenged books list, but as a parent, I have no trouble with kids middle grades and up reading it, as long as they aren't overly sensitive to violence. In fact, my thirteen year old daughter read it before I did and had no trouble with it at all. Granted, the violence of kids killing other kids can be brutal and perhaps even disturbing, but as with many dystopian novels, the practice serves to underscore the unfairness of a governmental system that needs to be changed, which makes for a great discussion starter. As violent as the story was though, I felt it could have been much worse. It was not nearly as explicit as some violent scenes I've read in adult novels, and I believe the author held back somewhat on the details in deference to her target audience. In my opinion, it was no worse than some of the PG-13 movies that many kids in this age range are watching regularly, and definitely no worse than some of the real-life violence, such as school shootings, that kids must deal with. The big difference here is that they can process it through the safe lens of a fictional story and perhaps find some degree of empowerment. Aside from the violence, there was little else I found that could potentially be objectionable. There is no bad language, and Katniss and Peeta share nothing more than tender kisses. She does help him undress at one point, but only in the context of helping someone who is sick and injured. They also share a sleeping bag at night for warmth, but in my opinion, there was nothing sexual about either of these things at all. There is a lot of food for thought in this book as well, such as what we value as a society, and what it means when a society has devolved to the point that they view killing as sport and entertainment. There are also questions raised about what should be done when a governmental regime sanctions such brutality, as well as the importance of thinking for oneself. Overall, I would say the book is appropriate for its intended age group, especially when guided by a parent or educator.
The Hunger Games was an extremely well-written book. Normally, I'm not a fan of present tense narration, but I honestly didn't even realize until I was several chapters into the book that it was written in present tense. It was very well done, and I thought it gave the story a greater sense of urgency and immediacy which only heightened the suspense. I really felt like I was there with Katniss as she embarks on this fight for survival. I loved the characters, and I really liked how the author explored the concepts of mercy, and doing the right thing by being as moral and ethical as possible when faced with a situation that is so very wrong but from which there seems to be no means of escape. Suzanne Collins really left an impression on me with this first book of the The Hunger Games trilogy, and I can't wait to continue....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" After reading Hiding Space, the first in Linda Andrews' sci-fi series which follows intrepid space adventurers BroReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" After reading Hiding Space, the first in Linda Andrews' sci-fi series which follows intrepid space adventurers Brongill of Da'Hap and Alderina of Rutgers, I was very undecided about how to rate it. I had liked the characters and enjoyed certain aspects of the story, but I was a bit disappointed at the lack of romance and a little confused by the socio-political details of the world they inhabited. Now that I've read Animosity, I'm wondering if I missed something, because I thoroughly enjoyed this follow-up volume. Maybe it had something to do with the story taking place on the surface of Brongill's home planet, Terrill, rather than in outer space, or maybe it was the addition of some lively new characters, but whatever the reason, Animosity ended up being a really fun read. This book was packed with non-stop action and adventure that kept me turning the pages wondering how Brongill and Ally would bring peace to the warring factions and defeat their common enemy. Although the focus was still squarely on the sci-fi elements, I was pleased to find a little more romance this time. There is some sexual tension peppered throughout the narrative and one relatively mild love scene, but it was just enough to make me comfortable with actually categorizing this one as sci-fi romance. Also, the world building was much clearer this time. Either it was explained better or I was paying closer attention, but whichever was the case, I had no trouble understanding what was going on and who was who which only added to the enjoyment.
Animosity begins with Terrill being in a virtual post-apocalyptic state. Sentient machines have essentially taken over the planet and are trying to off the humanoid beings (this part reminded me in some ways of The Matrix or Battlestar Galactica). It is on this world that Brongill, Ally, and the crew of the Tyche crash land in the opening chapters (there's nothing like having your spaceship blow up right out of the gate;-)). From there, it's all about their survival and the search for Ally's children and the rest of Brongill's crew, but in order to accomplish that, they must face the now-hostile environment of Terrill. Along the way, Brongill and Ally discover that an ancient prophecy says they will unite the races and bring peace to the world, which of course, is a very heavy burden to bear, but they seem to be very much up to the task.
As with the first book, Animosity is more plot-driven than character-driven, but I felt like I got to know the characters a little better this time. Ally is tough as nails and cool under pressure, while still being kind and compassionate. She's also very intelligent, often managing to reason her way out of some very sticky situations. She's a great mom, always thinking of her kids, and a wonderful bondmate to Brongill. I thought it was very cool how she could control the nanites (amazing microscopic machines that can both build and destroy). Ally thinks of Brongill as a natural-born leader, but throughout the course of the story, she discovers that innate ability within herself too. Brongill is the same no-nonsense commander he's always been, a man who sees what needs to be done and just does it. I think being with Ally has softened him up a bit, as he shows a more loving side, but Ally and her safety are always his first priority. It was rather funny how Brongill could be a little cave-mannish in his protection of Ally, while she balks at him trying to treat her like fine china. She is definitely a strong, spirited woman, but in a good way.
There are lots of supporting characters who add energy to the story, and somehow, I managed to keep them all straight. They represented a wide variety of personalities and purposes which only added interest. I was quite fascinated by the fantastical creatures who inhabit Terrill, particularly the lynuktars, giant, flying, purple cats (I want one for a pet;-)). There are some pretty scary things too like toblets (shark-like fish), speek (pterodactyl-like birds), and of course the machines. Linda Andrews certainly has quite an imagination to come up with all these creatures. I was kind of sad that we don't get to see more of Ty. She only appears in the first few chapters, but it was interesting to see her in her natural element with her own kind.
As you can probably tell by now, I had a really good time reading Animosity. All the action and the twists and turns of the plot kept me on the edge of my seat, eager to learn what would happen next. I don't know if there will be any more adventurers for Brongill and Ally, but if there are, I would be very interested in reading them. But, perhaps I should just check out some of Linda Andrews' other titles and see if I can find some new, exciting characters to spend time with instead.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" I had a rather difficult time deciding how to rate Hiding Space for a couple of different reasons. First of all itReviewed for THC Reviews "3.5 stars" I had a rather difficult time deciding how to rate Hiding Space for a couple of different reasons. First of all it appears to be categorized as sci-fi romance, but I wouldn't really classify it as such. In my mind, it is first and foremost a science fiction story with only the barest hint of romance. The two main characters do form a mild attraction for one another, and at the end, it is implied that they are going to be sharing a home, but they never even so much as kiss during the course of the novel. Going into reading this story thinking it was a romance, but getting so little romantic interactions was somewhat disappointing. I admit I don't have a great deal of experience with sci-fi romance and those I have read tend to focus more on the action/adventure aspects, but in this case the romance was almost negligible in my opinion. However, the upside to the lack of sensuality is that I can recommend the book for most readers including mature teens, as there is little objectionable content except for a couple of strong profanities and a couple of instances of moderately gory violence. The downside of course is that I wasn't fully satisfied with the story.
The other thing that made Hiding Space difficult to rate is that I spent a large parts of the book feeling lost and confused. At the beginning of the novel, I kind of felt like I'd been dumped into the middle of the story and had very little concept of what was going on. I think perhaps a little more background set-up to explain why the aliens were abducting Ally and her children would have been quite helpful. All I knew was that they were somehow the key to the survival of the alien race. There are also bits involving an anonymous assassin that come and go rather quickly and at the time, I didn't really understand at all what his/her objective was. I realize this was all part of the author's attempt to create an air of mystery and intrigue and on some level it did work. She slowly revealed more and more tidbits of information which gradually increased my understanding of the backstory. I think I finally understood most of the overarching plot by the end, but there were still many of the finer points of the socio-political climate between the planets and races that continued to elude me. I normally pride myself on having excellent reading comprehension, but there was just something about the way this book was written that simply didn't mesh well with the way my brain functions. Maybe it was because most of the information was imparted through narrative dialog which isn't my favorite way of learning about things. Some of it must have absorbed into my sub-conscious mind though, because I did correctly discern, in part, who the saboteur was before it was revealed.
Even though I had some trouble keeping up with the complex background plot, I did very much enjoy the action/adventure sequences. There were plenty of exciting things happening that held my attention. It was almost like reading an episode of Star Trek. Also, some of the concepts that fueled the story were interesting such as the warriors ability to separate body and soul, leading to battles in a type of spirit realm. I also liked that Brongill's spaceship, Tyche, is a character in and of itself, a sentient life-form with which he can communicate telepathically. The nanites that are able to fix and create things were rather fascinating as well.
Hiding Space is definitely more of a plot-driven story than a character-driven one. I didn't feel like there were a great deal of insights into the characters' internal workings, but what I got to know of them I liked. Ally is a widow who was toughened up by having to deal with her mob-connected in-laws who murdered her husband and had been chasing her family for years. For her, being abducted by aliens was practically a walk in the park. Her three children were great too and added a fun, youthful flavor to the story. Their exact ages aren't given but based on their behavior I'd guess they ranged from about six to sixteen, and they all acted age-appropriately. Brongill is a bit more mysterious. As commander of the ship, he has a mission to complete, but at the same time, he has a personal vendetta to settle. That includes killing Ally, but the more he gets to know her, the harder it is for him to go through with his plan. It seemed like Brongill (and perhaps the aliens in general) have suppressed emotions. As Ty teaches him about human love and courting rituals from her database, he seems rather fascinated by the concept but it's still a foreign one to him. I thought that it would have been fun to explore that side of him more fully, and it probably could have led to a much more robust romantic relationship as well. Ms. Andrews has an upcoming sequel to Hiding Space titled Animosity which follows Ally and Brongill as they continue to try to bridge the gap between alien races, only now as a married couple. Even though I had some issues with the details of Hiding Space, I did enjoy the characters and the story enough to give the sequel a try when it comes out. I think it might be fun to see what kind of new adventures they have together. I'll just have to be sure I go into it not expecting much romance.
Note: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. ...more
Reviewed for THC Reviews I've been a fan of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series for quite some time, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to get aroundReviewed for THC Reviews I've been a fan of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series for quite some time, so I'm not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading The Host. I think part of it was simply that long books like this are somewhat daunting to a slow reader like me. However, I also think that perhaps subconsciously I wasn't sure I would like it as well and didn't want to ruin my relationship with this author I've come to love so much. Well, I'm happy to say that nothing could have been further from the truth. The Host still embodies Stephenie Meyer's trademark writing style, but it is a very different kind of story. I love books that make me think about what ifs, and this one definitely did that in a profound way.
The concept of two consciousnesses inhabiting the same body and fighting for control of it was an unusual and intriguing one. I'm still not sure how she did it, but Ms. Meyer managed to give Wanderer and Melanie very different personalities that were both appealing in their own way despite them sharing one body. Melanie is a tough survivor who managed to keep herself and her brother, Jamie, from being taken by the souls, even though she was only a teenager when Earth was invaded and their parents “died.” When she met Jared, he helped to shoulder some of the burden for their survival, and after spending a short time together, they fell deeply in love. When Melanie was finally caught by the Seekers, she loved Jared and Jamie so much, she would do anything to keep her promise to return to them alive, including battling with Wanderer in her own head. She plagues Wanderer with her thoughts long after the implantation when most other human souls would have succumbed and faded into the background, if not disappeared completely. Wanderer has traveled the universe and lived on many other planets. She is an eternal being who is now in her ninth life cycle. Like most souls, Wanderer is kind and gentle to a fault. She can't stand to see anyone, even her enemy, hurt in any way, especially when she thinks it has something to do with her. The longer Wanderer spends inside Melanie's body, and the more Melanie lets her see of her life before being caught, the more intrigued and sympathetic Wanderer becomes toward Melanie and all humans in general. Having access to Melanie's memories and emotions, Wanderer comes to love Jared and Jamie every bit as much as Melanie does, so they forge an uneasy truce in order to find the two men that Melanie had to leave behind. That truce gradually grows into a mutual respect and eventually a sisterly bond. As they integrate more fully and work toward their common goal, their thought processes start veering away from "I" and "my" to become "we” and "our." Watching the psychological evolution of these two beings was fascinating.
The secondary characters were wonderful too. I loved almost everything about Uncle Jeb. He's an old conspiracy theorist who also has a curious mind and is definitely the voice of reason when it comes to nearly everything, especially Melanie/Wanderer. Not to mention his “home” is just too cool for words. I also thoroughly enjoyed his no nonsense manner, “My house, my rules.” I adored Jamie's boyish curiosity. He is quick to see the good in Wanderer and is the first to believe that Melanie is still alive in there too. Jared is a tougher nut to crack. The story is told in first person perspective, mostly from Wanderer's viewpoint. Sometimes I wished we had Jared's POV, but it was obvious that he was going through a mighty struggle. He hates Wanderer for taking over Melanie's body, but because she still looks like Melanie, it's hard for him to kill her even though he feels like doing it sometimes. Ian doesn't exactly get off on the right foot, but he turns out to be a total sweetheart who I completely fell in love with. I can't say much more about these men or the other secondary characters in general without giving away some major spoilers. All I'll say is that it was a colorful cast who each had their own personalities and roles to play, and each one went through a personal transformation throughout the story which was a pleasure to watch. I also can't help saying that the way things turned out for Kyle was a delicious irony.
I've seen people say that The Host is more “grown up” than the Twilight series, and therefore, isn't really young adult, but I can see it both ways. Just by virtue of the characters generally being older, it is a more mature story that doesn't embody the teen angst of Twilight or other typical young adult books, but at the same time, the content isn't really any more mature. I think this story is appropriate for most fans of Twilight, both young and old. The language is very minimal, and while there is some violence, it isn't overly descriptive or particularly disturbing. There are a few fairly intense kissing scenes and one passionate embrace that embodied some moderate sexual tension, but there is no actual sex within the narrative and the sexual references are written in a veiled way and pretty mild. There are a few moderately mature themes, such as whether it's OK to take measures to end a human's suffering, but there are also plenty of positive messages about tolerance and doing the right thing. All this considered, as a parent, I would say that the book is appropriate for a mature teenage audience of approximately 14-15 and up.
While The Host is unequivocally post-apocalyptic science fiction, anyone who prefers hard science and/or action and adventure in their science fiction may be disappointed in the story. The science aspect that's present seemed reasonably sound to me and it does have a few adventurous scenes, but this is more of a psychological and sociological drama. Since these are areas of infinite fascination to me, I couldn't help but love this story. It's about relationships, not just of the romantic variety, but also friendships and what it means to be a family. It's about making hard decisions, and about doing the right thing even when others may not agree with you. It's about fear of that which we don't understand and learning tolerance for others. But most of all, The Host is a story about what it truly means to be human. It is a story that touched me in a very deep way. It did start off a tad slow, but I realized that the languid pace was necessary for building trust between the characters, and once it reached the halfway point, it really took off and thoroughly engaged my attention. All in all, a fabulous book that didn't seem nearly as long as it was. I wish there was some inkling of when Stephenie Meyer is going to release the sequels, because I'm dying to read more. I highly recommend The Host to anyone who enjoys watching fictional characters go on an emotionally-charged journey of self-discovery as they explore new concepts and learn to love and respect others for who they are....more
Reviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I’m a big fan of the Heroes TV show, and actually bought this graphic novel for my husband way back when the showReviewed for THC Reviews "4.5 stars" I’m a big fan of the Heroes TV show, and actually bought this graphic novel for my husband way back when the show was still airing. I’m not sure if he ever read it, but I didn’t. When we recently started re-watching the series, I figured it was a good time to finally take a look at Heroes: Volume One. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, but as it turns out, that’s not a bad thing. Before picking it up, I thought that the entire book was a graphic novelization of an original story that takes place within the Heroes world. In reality, it’s a collections of thirty-four short web comics that were originally available for free online to fans of the show. Each one is only about five to six pages long, although some of the stories span multiple “episodes.” I’d estimate around half the stories are stand-alones that are little more than vignettes, giving some tidbit of information on a particular character’s background or giving some additional insights into something that happened in one of the Season 1 episodes. Some are more interesting than others, but for fans of the show, they’re all enlightening on some level.
However, it was the multi-comic story arcs that I found most intriguing. There was a six-part story titled “War Buddies” that gives insights into the connection between Linderman and the Petrelli family that was really good. But my favorite was the four-part story titled “Wireless.” It gives the entire backstory on Hana Gitelman, a character whose mind can connect with any electronic device. She was only seen in two episodes of the show, but she ended up playing a pretty big role not only in her stories, but several others in this book. Even though she was only a minor characters in the series, by the time I finished reading Heroes: Volume One, I felt like I knew her pretty well.
There were a team of writers and artists who put these stories together and whose skill levels varied. Some I liked better than others. I’ve already mentioned some of the stories I liked the best, but as for the artwork, I’d have to say my favorite artist was Jason Badower. His drawings were phenomenal, in part, because he drew the characters to look exactly like the actors who portrayed them. Eg. I turned a page and was blown away to see a perfect portrait of Stana Katic, who played Hana in the show.
Overall, this was a great collection for fans of the Heroes TV show. Since the comics are mostly filling in blanks in the shows episodes, I’m not sure how much they would be enjoyed by someone who hasn’t seen the TV series or who isn’t a fan. They’re definitely geared more toward someone who is watching the show and then following along with the graphic novels. But for anyone who loves Heroes, the TV show, Heroes: Volume One is an insightful must-have add-on. Although there were numerous web comics published online at the time the show aired, it appears those are no longer available, and there was only one other volume besides this one that was published in print. I’ll definitely be picking that one up at some point too....more