Review | Winter by Marissa Meyer

Broken isn’t the same as unfixable.

Does that also apply to my heart now that this series is over?

winter-marissa-meyer1

Summary

Princess Winter Hayle-Blackburn is known as the most beautiful young woman on Luna. Though no one would ever say it in front of her stepmother, Queen Levana, who forced her to scar her face when she was a child. Levana would rather that people know her for her insanity, a madness brought on by the princess’s refusal to use her Lunar gift. Despite this, she is loved by all, especially her childhood friend and guard, Jacin Clay.

But Levana has bigger problems than her stepdaughter. Her niece, the cyborg and rightful heir to the Lunar throne, Linh Cinder, has kidnapped her fiancé, Emperor Kai of the Eastern Commonwealth, preventing both a union between Earth and the Moon, and Levana’s reign over them all.

But Cinder, with the help of Kai, Scarlet, Wolf, Cress, Thorne, and Iko plan to end Levana’s reign of terror. The crew of the Rampion will go to Luna and begin the greatest revolution on the coldest rock in the sky.

Review

This might be my favourite book of 2015.

Winter is what every finale to a series should be. Epic battles, romance, and the climax that fans of the series have been waiting for.

For one thing, this plot is brilliant. The crew’s plan falls apart almost immediately, and the whole book is their backup plans failing over and over and over again. It keeps you on the edge of your seat.

And that final fight? I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

As always, Meyer’s characters are her stars. Their interactions, their dialogue, their relationships are so well done, I simply read in awe. And yes, while the romantic relationships are spectacular, I have to focus on the friendships here. Iko and Cinder, Scarlet and Winter, Thorne and Kai, Jacin and Cress, Wolf and Cress—they are all bound to one another now. And I adore the way that they care for each other, support each other, and yet can poke fun at each other. Plus, everyone (even Kai) is badass in their own way. They’re like the Fellowship of the Ring.

Hm, the Fellowship of the Rampion?

We’ve got nine leads to juggle through so I won’t discuss all of them here. But I want to focus on three in particular: Winter, Jacin, and Iko. Winter’s voice and character is so well done. Meyer perfectly portrays a young woman who is clever, naive, and just plain insane. Jacin, on the other end of the spectrum, is a young man struggling to keep his emotions in check and his princess safe. He’s very serious and straightforward, and therefore he complements Winter well.

But Iko. Iko and her emotions and her loyalty and her way of blurring the line between human and machine really struck a chord with me. I really find it interesting, especially since it’s hard to say if sacrifice is a law of nature or of Asimov.

Meyer’s writing is much more graphic than it has been in previous novels, and that’s saying a lot considering the endings of Scarlet and Cress. Granted, we are in the middle of a war, but everything felt much more visceral in this book. And I like how sensory that is, it really impresses the brutality of Luna and of war.

Another great thing about Meyer’s writing in Winter is how well balanced the story is. She has to develop two brand new characters, while maintaining and developing previous characters and relationships, and cover a wedding, a coronation, and a revolution in the scope of 800 pages. And I have to say it’s done rather well, as people’s character come out through their actions and reactions.

If I had to nitpick though, I have three small issues with the book. One is that there are a few scenes I wish Meyer had either truncated or expanded. Rarely, a scene would feel like it was going on for too long, or a problem solved just a little too quickly. I forgive this because there are a lot of character point of views to choose from, and my critique stems from a simple desire to have scene from another person’s perspective.

My other critique is that there was (and don’t hurt me) a little too much kissing. And yes, there are four OTPs to get through and so there’s lots of romantic plot to go around. And for the most part, Meyer really balances the romance with the action. But sometimes it’s more awkward than sweet. I can’t really divulge what ticks me off about this without going into spoilerific territory, so I’m going to write an IMR and put the link here once I’ve written it.

Finally, there is the issue with the adaptation of Snow White, which was very good in the first half, too literal in the middle, and then good again in the end. Compared to Scarlet and Cress, the fairy tale adaptation was a little heavy handed.

But other than these three really nitpicky things, I adore this finale a lot. The ending was more than satisfying, and nearly everything on my list was addressed. Between great characters, a stellar plot, and balanced storytelling, I can’t help but love the final book of The Lunar Chronicles.

Recommendation for Winter: Bookmarked for Life. I cannot emphasize how much I loved this book. It’s hard to believe that this is the finale to a series that began with Cinder.

Recommendation for The Lunar Chronicles: Buy. Fans of fairy tale adaptations and sci fi should definitely try The Lunar Chronicles. Between cyborg Cinderella, a Big Bad Wolf/Man hybrid, Rapunzel locked away in a satellite, and a princess as beautiful as she is insane, beloved tales from childhood become an epic adventure.

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Review | Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

(I’ve got about four of these lined up—reviews, that is—so be ready!)

I am so glad I reread this finale.

Summary

District Twelve is gone. Peeta is a captive of the Capitol. And a war is about to begin.

Hiding in District Thirteen, Katniss contemplates becoming the Mockingjay, the symbol of the resistance. But everyone knows the one pulling the strings is President Snow, the leader of the strictly regulated District Thirteen. Dressing up to make an impression—not exactly new ground.

But with the possibility of a better life for all of Panem, Katniss might actually agree to be part of the rebellion.

Plot

The best part about this plot is the parallels between its plot and those of the previous two novels. Katniss is still being manipulated, still dressed up and put on camera for the benefit of propaganda. And these are still the Hunger Games.

The cleverness of it all is that the seriousness from the last couple of books gets kicked up by about a thousand notches. Part of it is the war. Part of it is the PTSD. Part of it is the best plot twist in the series happens and it played out so well.

Characters

What I like about Katniss in this book is that you can really see how far she’s come from the first book. First book Katniss wouldn’t care about Peeta, would have hated the prep team, would have

But what really sticks out in this novel is how raw all the characters are. Sure, there are still images being maintained, but the circumstances are much more serious and substantial. Every character interaction has weight. Every death has consequence because it means something to die. You don’t really get that feel from the first two books.

One of my favourite scenes in this novel is the line, “Katniss will pick whoever she thinks she can’t survive without.” In this book you really get the understanding of survival, and that living means more than just survival. And that comes largely through the characters.

Writing

Katniss’s voice in this book is both strong and weak, and I love that about this book, it just shows how much she’s grown. She’s much more perceptive and sensitive, but she’s also making finite decisions.

The problem I had the first time around was that the pace was mind boggling slow. This time, I think it’s still slow, but that’s to make room for all of the analysis and inner monologue. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.

But I think the reader is greatly limited by Katniss’s point of view. On one hand, we get a first person POV of a war, making it much more personal and much easier to slip into the situation. On the other hand, you don’t see the battle, because you’re with Katniss making propos.

Themes

Like in the other books, image is huge here. The propos are the largest representation of this, and it’s important to note that the rebels are using Katniss the same way the Capitol was.

What I like a lot about this book is that there is a distinct difference between living and survival. Katniss learns this through her (unbearingly annoying) love triangle, her time as the breadwinner, her time in the Games, and her time as a rebel. The difference in definition is something we often take for granted, but the message still applies to us.

Survival means staying alive. Living means deserving it. And what is deserving it? Well, you’re going to have to read the book.

Final Verdict

Recommendation for Mockingjay: Buy. Finish this series. You owe it to yourself.

Recommendation for The Hunger Games Trilogy: Bookmarked for Life. The Hunger Games Trilogy is very important to me as a discussion of image, politics, and survival.

Review | Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

It’s always fun reviewing your favourite book in a series.

Summary

Katniss Everdeen should be happy. She survived the Hunger Games, her family now lives comfortably in District 12, and she is back in the company of her friend, Gale.

But despite winning the Games, Katniss is still closely watched by all of Panem, watched too closely to be happy. Gale distances himself and Peeta can’t even look at her. As victor, she must visit all of the districts on the Victory Tour, a way to maintain the influence of the Games in the winters between the annual events. She must

But for Katniss, the Victory Tour is her only opportunity to convince Panem that her actions were not rebellious—that she was head over heels in love with Peeta. But even if she can—and she’s not sure she is—the districts seem to have their minds made up with rebellion.

Plot

What I love so much about the Catching Fire is that the plot of The Hunger Games gets kicked up a notch. Or possibly twelve.

In the first novel, we don’t get to see much of the political strife and situation in Panem, since we spend most of the book with Katniss in the arena. Now, we get a full survey of the status of Panem.

And this book is just full of twists. I remember that the first time I read it, I was just shocked with each new plot point. It’s extremely clever, and it makes for a really entertaining read.

What really makes this plot shine, however, is that Katniss’ task is futile. Despite Snow’s insistence that the rebellious attitude is her fault, it is so completely out of her control. And reading how this mindset manipulates Katniss really sets up the final book, Mockingjay.

My one problem is that the romance is weak. It’s the trouble with a love triangle. I don’t really believe that Katniss loves Gale. She’s attached to him, for sure, but I don’t think they work together romantically.

Characters

Once again, there are too many characters to talk about. The other victors are just so carefully constructed. Haymitch, Finnick, Mags, Beetee, Johanna—all of them have distinct characteristics and are broken in different ways because of the Games.

Katniss in this book is such an interesting character to read about because I kept trying to track which decisions were hers and which were guided. And by doing so, it makes it easy to see who she really is.

But the real treat of this book is that we get a glimpse of the Capitol and its society. We see that they are still human, albeit vain and selfish ones. As much as their indulgence horrifies us, their compassion stretches farther.

Writing

Just like The Hunger Games, Katniss’ point view puts the reader in a specific perspective that colours the scenes.

In terms of composition though, I find it amazing that Collins can balance humourous and heavy content. Catching Fire is one of my favourite book to movie adaptations, though regrettably, they cut out a lot of the humour and quiet moments that balance out the death and drama. And I really appreciate that in the novel.

I mean, Katniss and Peeta’s last day on the roof of the training centre? Freaking perfect.

Themes

There’s definitely a deep discussion on mob mentality in this book. How, once something as big as a rebellion begins, it’s no longer in the control of any one person.

But I also like to think that compassion is a huge part of this book as well. Catching Fire is very emotional, because not only is the reader attached to the characters, but the tributes are attached to each other. It makes each death even more painful and heartbreaking.

Final Verdict

Recommendation: Bookmarked for life. I adore Catching Fire as the perfect sequel in a series. Building on the first novel while setting up the finale, Collins’ second instalment of The Hunger Games Trilogy is my favourite in the series.

Review | Paper Towns by John Green

This is my favourite John Green book.

Okay, the review’s over now.15. Paper Towns

Well, not really. It is my favourite, so I’ve got quite a bit to say.

Summary

Life changes for Quentin “Q” Jacobsen when Margo Roth Speigelman enters his life. She would become the love of his life, his personal miracle, his mystery to uncover. Or rather, love from afar, since despite his crush on her, he hasn’t talked to her since they were children.

He just didn’t know his life would change again when she disappeared.

Plot

The search for Margo, both physically and mentally, is what drives the story. The set up is admittedly awkward, the book beginning and ending with road trips that sandwich the hunt for Margo. I’ve always liked the parallels between the two road trips, though, which really showed how much the characters have changed. It makes the transition period worth it. Plus, when it’s full of lines like this,

sometimes, he’s so retarded, he’s brilliant

it’s just a fun read.

In the end though, this story isn’t plot driven, it’s character driven. The plot is about how these characters change. And with that, let’s move onto those characters, shall we?

Characters

I love all of these characters. A lot. And that’s saying something.

Q is probably one of my favourite protagonists. I identify with him a lot, and his progression throughout the story is great. His obsession with Margo is justifiable and believable, and his comfort in routine is relatable.

Ben and Radar are the best. Mostly because they aren’t just foils for one another. They are both sources of comedy, both sources of deep thought (though one more than the other in both cases), and both really good friends.

I can’t bring myself to hate Margo despite all the grief she causes. Mostly because, to certain extent, it isn’t her fault. Or rather, it’s not just her fault. The funny thing is we don’t really learn anything about Margo, except what she’s not. And that’s a powerful thing.

Writing

Paper Towns is slice of life done right. It takes all of my problems with Looking for Alaska and fixes them. Q’s search for Margo reveals more about himself and the other people who join him on the search than about Margo herself. There’s the right amount of distress, the right amount of fear, the right amount of comedy.

Plus, John just knows how to speak from a teenager’s perspective. He captures that feeling of being lost and unsure. And when the characters learn something, it feels genuine, not forced. It’s what I love about Paper Towns.

Themes

Paper Towns is about empathy. And how it’s practically impossible. Instead of discovering other people as the characters try to understand them, they find out more about themselves. Now that I think about it, Paper Towns is a lot like Tristram Shandy. 

But I also find that Paper Towns is about the danger of us attributing meaning to things. It’s about the danger of symbols, of metaphors. I’m never fully convinced of Margo’s strings, Whitman’s grass, or Q’s cracked vessel, and yet I’m okay that I don’t fully agree with any of these metaphors. After all,

We don’t suffer from a shortage of metaphors

Final Verdict

Recommendation: Bookmarked for life. Paper Towns has and always will be my favourite John Green book.

Wow. I’ve been giving this rating a lot recently. Well hey, these books deserve it.

Review | Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

Once upon a time, a trilogy was written about forbidden love and terrible war.

It was wonderful.

Laini Taylor

Summary

Karou and Akiva are now leaders of the Misbegotten/Chimaera rebellion. And while both sides have agreed to cooperate, it’s far from easy. Surrounded by deception, lies, and war, bringing their dream of a peaceful Eretz to reality will be a lot more work than the lovers anticipated.

Jael has raised the stakes. Invading Earth on the guise of angels sent from heaven, the humans are conflicted with what to do with these winged visitors, but with the threat of beasts, their minds will soon turn. The rebels find themselves not only dealing with the future of their world, but the human world as well.

The only human who seems to have a grasp of what’s going on is Eliza. Her sleep is wracked with dreams of gods and monsters, and when the angels arrive, she is shaken.

But Jael might not be the biggest threat. His plan is to use the humans against the Stelians, the long lost kin of the seraphim. But the Stelians aren’t waiting for the attack. In fact, they are quite interested in one of their kind, lost among the ranks of the Misbegotten.

Or not quite so lost. He is leading the rebellion, after all.

Plot

This story is so raw. A fantastical setting with a real depiction of war, it builds on itself, with no loose ends or stones unturned.

My heart broke and repaired itself for these characters over and over as the story progressed. Their struggle is well crafted and logical, but heavily wrought with emotion. From Mik and Zuzana’s first war experience, to Akiva and Karou’s longing, to Ziri’s subterfuge, this plot is fantastic.

As for how the series ended as a whole, let me say that this is how you write an open ending. Because it’s not an ending. It’s a happy middle.

Characters

I love these characters with a fiery passion. The growth of Akiva and Karou, of Mik and Zuzana, of Liraz and Ziri—it is all so well done.

And speaking of fiery passions, I need to talk about Liraz (who I’ve neglected in my other reviews) because she is such a great character. She, all on her own, made me want to cry. Numerous times.

Taylor’s female characters cover a broad spectrum of women: good to evil, strong to weak, and makes each of them distinct in personality. I don’t think I’ve encountered a stronger cast of females that (and this is important) are not sexualized. Sure, the men in the story will talk about them as objects to play with, but the women here know that their strength isn’t in their sexuality, but in their mental, physical, and (in some cases) magical capabilities.

Writing

What can I say that I haven’t already mentioned? Taylor knows how to write comedy and tragedy, balancing them as if it were as easy as breathing.

She knows how to layer tension and anxiety. And how to provide a brief relief from it. She doesn’t leave out the gritty bits, and she’s not afraid to reveal terror.

To sum up, her writing is honest. It is brutal, but kind, articulating both joy and horror beautifully.

Themes

Like the previous installments, this is a novel about hope, about war, and also about happiness. Taylor confronts that despite a fantastical set up, the real world is far from happy endings, world peace, and the permanent eradication of evil. You can’t just hope for these things, you have to actively work towards them.

Final Verdict

This might be my favourite trilogy ever. Wonderfully constructed, with outstanding writing and vivid characters, the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is a must read.

Recommendation for Dreams of Gods and Monsters: Buy. 

Recommendation for the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy: Bookmarked for Life. I will never get over how epic this story is. In the most literary sense of the word.