Serena’s Rev-Up Review: “Red Rising”

Red RisingIn anticipation of my up-coming review of the recently released “Morning Star,” the final book in Pierce Brown’s “Red Rising” trilogy, I thought I would go ahead and post reviews for the two previous books in the series. Just so we’re all caught up and ready for what promises to be an action-packed conclusion! Here’s my review of the first book in the trilogy.

Book: “Red Rising”

Publishing Info: Del Rey, January 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: Splurge! I bought it.

Book Description from Goodreads: Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

Review: This book was marketed as a cross between “The Hunger Games” and “Ender’s Game.” I liked “The Hunger Games” and loved “Ender’s Game,” so I was pretty sold. (Of course, this book also came out during a time when all YA books published that had even a whiff of dystopian influences were marketed as “THE NEXT HUNGER GAMES OMG.” So I was understandably skeptical of this claim.) However, for once, this marketing ploy wasn’t far off and actually followed through with its promise!

This book is fast paced. You meet Darrow, an unambitious family man (yes, he’s also a teenager, but hey, dystopia world!) who is content to live his life as a Helldiver, a risky role where he operates a clawDrill that bores into Mars’ core in an effort to terraform the planet for human life on the surface. Two seconds later, tragedy has struck, he’s been recruited to a rebel organization, and is a sleeper spy caught up in political intrigue within a  tyrannical society that spans the solar system. A society that uses an elaborate death school to identify the leaders in its elite youth. Hence: “Hunger Games in Space!”

The world building is impressive. The combination of a complex hierarchical system based on colors (Blues work in the medical field, Green are tech, etc. with Gold ruling over the lot), plus a sci-fi backdrop on Mars, with many creative uses of technology, leaves the reader constantly wondering what will come next and how these pieces will all fit together. Brown is clearly having a blast with this world, and his appreciation of staple works in the sci fi/fantasy genre  is expressed with a fun smattering of Easter eggs for fans to fish out.

Darrow is also a fantastic protagonist. At one point as I was reading, I started to become concerned that he was going to turn into the typical, hero-journey character that neatly ticks the boxes in his predictable path to becoming the savior of the people. But, luckily, his flaws are highlighted and there are enough wrenches thrown into the plot to defy expectation and keep things interesting.

And his companion, Mustang, is amazing. I want a companion series all about her. My one concern, however, is that in this book she seems to operate as the token “strong woman” character with several other female characters sliding into obscurity. And worse, at one point there comes a bit that strikes too closely to using violence against women purely for shock value. My biggest hope for this series is that it improves in this area.

All in all, I highly enjoyed “Red Rising.” The book is obviously setting up a trilogy but is also enjoyable on its own. Stay tuned for my review of “Golden Son” coming soon.

Rating 8: Very good, fun sci fi read

Reader’s Advisory:

“Red Rising” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Best Science Fiction of the 21st Century” and “YA Novels of 2014.”

Find “Red Rising” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Swerve”

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Book: “Swerve” by Vicki Pettersson

Publishing Info: Gallery Books, July 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: It’s high summer in the Mojave Desert, and Kristine Rush and her fiancé, Daniel, are en route from Las Vegas to Lake Arrowhead, California, for the July Fourth holiday weekend. But when Daniel is abducted from a desolate rest stop, Kristine is forced to choose: return home unharmed, but never to see her fiancé again, or plunge forward into the searing desert to find him…where a killer lies in wait.

Review: This book sounded really great on paper. I liked the idea of bending the usual gender theme of a damsel in distress on the open highway and the hero who runs in to save her. That isn’t to say I don’t like that genre; from “Duel” to “Breakdown” to even the original “The Hitcher“, a good on-the-road chase story can be incredibly entertaining. When I thought I’d found this kind of thing in book form, I was quite excited. It started out promising, as Kristine, after being attacked in a rest room and finding her husband to be kidnapped, is sent on a hellish scavenger hunt of sorts on a desert highway. The kidnapper contacts her and lets her know that he’s keeping his eye on her, and makes her do a number of cruel and sadistic tasks in hopes of keeping Daniel alive. But then about half way through the book, the tone shifted, and I felt like I had been kind of duped. I won’t spoil it for those still interested in reading it, but it turned into a story that I feel like I’ve read before.

There were also a lot of tropes that I’ve seen in this kind of fiction, especially when it comes to female protagonists, and though I did like Kristine as a main character over all, some of her quirks felt like things we’ve seen before. I sometimes worry that authors have a harder time creating a realistically complex female character in stories like this, as if certain traits (a hard life, certain personality quirks) automatically make her ‘strong’ or ‘badass’. Kristine fell into some of these traps. She had an abusive childhood. She pulled herself up by her bootstraps as a single Mom and made a life for herself in spite of the odds. She ‘doesn’t cry’ (I really hope that this wasn’t implying that strong women don’t cry easily). I think that taken as different parts of different wholes this would have been okay, but in this instance it felt like we were ticking off boxes of how to make Kristine the tough kick butt female that a reader may feel she needs to be to survive this situation. I would have liked more nuance to her character. Enjoyable as she was, she could have been great!

The writing, however, is very suspenseful, and while the book was still in full blown scavenger hunt mode I was very entertained. Pettersson was very good at cranking up the tension bit by bit, and I was all out nervous as I read the first half of the book. I worried for Kristine and Daniel, and the creep factor was very high. There is a scene in a diner that attacked me from two different sides, and I was both horrified but unable to look away from the page. To me, that says volumes about the ability Pettersson has to scare a person. Had the entire book been like that, I would have been one hundred percent sold on this book. As it was, though, she had me for awhile, but once it became clear the book was changing, the tension waned, and I was less enthusiastic. “Swerve” is a fun ride for awhile, but it loses steam.

Rating: 6. A fast paced story, but not what I was looking for in the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Swerve” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Beach Reads 2015” and “What Women Born in the 1970s Read in 2015″.

Find “Swerve” at your library using WorldCat! 

Bookclub Review: “City of Bones”

City of Bones

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.”

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub!

Book: “City of Bones” by Cassandra Clare

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, March 2007

Where Did We Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder― much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing―not even a smear of blood―to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…

Serena’s Thoughts:

As the professed fantasy-lover on this blog, I feel like it’s a bit unfortunate that this happens to be the first fantasy novel I’ll be reviewing. Ah well! I will blame my bookclub friend who chose this as her selection for bookclub and leave the regret with that.

I approached this book with what can by only described as extreme trepidation. It’s a staple in the YA fantasy genre and one I knew I should be getting around to, even now, many years after its publication. Cassandra Clare is nothing if not prolific with her writing given the number of sequels and prequels she’s rolled out! And, alas, my trepidation was warranted. While I love fantasy and young adult novels, “City of Bones” was not my cup of tea, and by the end I was frankly skimming along.

Positives first! I can definitely see why this book took off the way it did. Clare’s writing is fast-paced, her characters are witty, and the story includes every fantasy angle a reader could ask for. Negatives? The writing is so fast-paced that the story seems frenetic, ALL the characters are eerily similar in their witticisms, and the story includes every fantasy trope there is in the book. Vampires! Werewolves! Zombies! Hidden fantasy world in a major city! Heroine is more than she seems! It was a bit much. Don’t even get me started on the tired love-triangle trope. *sigh*

And, full disclosure, I came into this book having heard about the trials and tribulations of Clare’s fanfiction history. And while I’m not here to delve into that, I read a good amount of Harry Potter fanfiction in my day, and Jace? Jace was fanfiction!Draco. Clary’s connection to Ginny was harder to spot which was only a disservice to Clary, as Ginny is by far a more appealing protagonist. Clary did grow on me towards the end of the novel, but it was a bit too little, too late. And honestly, “Twilight” has forever biased me against a YA novel where the heroine describes herself as “clumsy” within the first 20 pages.

If you haven’t read this book by now and are a completest about YA fantasy series, than purely for the sake of popular relevance, you might want to check this book out. But for me, I won’t be continuing on.

Kate’s Thoughts:

Gosh, I’m not even certain of where to begin with this book. I had heard of it around the time that it first came out, but since back in 2007 I hadn’t really discovered YA Fiction and since it hadn’t really taken off yet as its own industry I wasn’t interested in reading it. But then it was picked for our YA Book Club and I found myself finally about to fill the void that not having read it admittedly left in my YA repertoire. But having gone through it now, I think it probably would have been just fine if that void had not been filled.

My main problem with it is that even though it was probably one of the first series to do the things that it does, coming in almost ten years after it was published made the themes and tropes seem VERY old hat. I can’t say that I was a fan of Clary being not only the point on a love triangle, but also a ‘chosen one’ figure AND incredibly snarky and witty and quirky. These themes are so commonplace now that I can hardly abide them anymore. I do think that there is some potential in this world, however, as I think that the magical system does have a pretty strong foundation. The Shadowhunter mythology is something that does intrigue me. It’s just that the focus is too much on Clary and how special she is when she was convinced that she wasn’t special at all. I liked Jace enough as a character, though knowing that this story is derived from a Harry Potter Fan Fiction that Clare wrote made it all the more clear to me that Jace is really Draco Malfoy, at least what he is seen as within the Harry Potter Fan Fiction Fanon. It’s too bad, because I wanted to see more ‘Jace-ness’, less ‘Draco-ness’.

The most intriguing character to me was Isabella, a female Shadowhunter (apparently such things are rare in this world. Hi, mild sexism, how are you?) who comes from an elite family and is used to all the male attention being on her. So of course she’s going to be threatened by Clary, who is so plain yet all the boys love her. What I liked about Isabella is that she did have glimmers of being pretty interesting, and it was evident that she cared about her cause and those around her. I have nothing bad to say about Isabelle, and I would probably read the entire series if it was about her. I can definitely see why this book could and would appeal to teenage readers, though. I know that when I was a teenage girl living a pretty normal, sometimes stressful, life, I would have loved the idea of having a completely different life, with two hot guys in love with me and a set of special powers to boot. And besides, I’m pretty sure that this book wasn’t written for me. So all in all I can’t fault it too much for being what it is. I just think that it could have been better.

Serena’s Rating 3: Too many YA fantasy tropes, not enough substance

Kate’s Rating 4: Predictable and shallow, but had some merits

Book Club Notes and Questions:

We also watched this movie, per the instructions of this bookclub season’s theme. It was what one would expect. The cinematography was beautiful, it adhered to the plot as much as a movie can within its time frame, and it had many of the same failings as the book did. It also bombed in the theater which is actually a bit of a surprise given the series’ popularity and the fact that most popular YA book-to-movie adaptations have been met with success. Sadly, since a sequel is not in the works, movie-goers will be forever left with…that ending…you know the one I’m talking about…

  1. “City of Bones” came out in 2007, and is nearly ten years old. Given that YA literature has changed so much in that time, do you think that this story would follow a similar path if it were written today? If not, how do you think it would change?
  2. What did you think of the magical world and magical system that Clare created for her series? Did it feel well thought out and complete? Did you want more?
  3. Was Clary a relatable protagonist for you? Did you find it easy to sympathize with her? If not, how could she have been more relatable?
  4. If you have read the book and watched the movie, how do they compare? Were there choices that the movie improved upon? Failures of omission?
  5. This book was influenced by Cassandra Clare’s very popular Harry Potter fanfiction writing. Were there resemblances between this world and the Harry Potter world that were easy to spot? Did it stand well enough on its own?

Reader’s Advisory:

“City of Bones” is included in these Goodreads lists: “All The Great Guys Books Have to Offer”, and “If You Love Harry Potter, Read These!” 

Find “City of Bones” at your library using WorldCat!