Monday, December 28, 2015

YA Reviews Part Three

This Monstrous Thing
By Mackenzi Lee
Published 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
Reviewed from e-ARC
Alasdair and his father are Shadow Boys - secretive mechanics who will repair men with clockwork parts, even though it's illegal. Alasdair has an even bigger secret, though - he's brought his brother, Oliver, back to life. But Oliver is not the same young man he was before - and when Frankenstein is published, life is more dangerous than ever for the both of them.

Well, perhaps I should have known better. Frankenstein is one of my least favorite books (particularly since it was required reading more than once); however, I love retellings, and stories that put new twists on classics. Additionally, I loved Kenneth Oppel's take on the Frankenstein story, so I never like to make assumptions. Unfortunately, this one did not work for me. I can't pinpoint exactly why. Maybe the characters didn't really click for me - I remember thinking Alasdair was pretty unsympathetic and his antagonist was a bit too obviously villainous for me. Maybe the setting didn't work - it's set, obviously, during the publication of the original novel, but it didn't give me the feelings that a great historical novel usually does. I'm not sure. What I do know is that most other people seem to have enjoyed this one, so your mileage may vary.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here
By Patrick Ness
Published 2015 by HarperTeen
Reviewed from e-ARC
Everybody knows the story of the Chosen One, but what if that's not you? What is the Chosen One is some guy in your English class who you once worked with on a project? What if you were just in the background of the Chosen One's story - never an immediate part of the action but irrevocably effected by the Chosen One's presence all the same? Well, that's Mikey.

I would describe myself as a big fan of Patrick Ness generally, but I didn't care terribly much for his last book. When I heard about this one, it sounded great - I love Chosen One narratives (hello, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer is my favorite show) and I imagined an author as skilled as Ness would be able to riff on it in some really fascinating ways. So, I was thrilled to have the digital galley. But...I didn't love it. I liked it (3 stars on Goodreads), but my more immediate reaction was disappointment. And I can't fully explain my disappointment without a spoiler so LOOK AWAY IF YOU WISH TO REMAIN COMPLETELY UNSPOILED. For as much as this book purported to be the story of a group of kids who weren't the Chosen Ones, Mikey's best friend is a demigod! What?! How does that not make him a Chosen One? Yes, you could make the argument that this is mostly Mikey's story, so perhaps his best friend's status as a potential deity shouldn't matter, but it irritated the daylights out of me. It made the book the opposite of what it claimed to be. Maybe this is a minor quibble for some, but for me, it was the tipping point. Add in the underwhelming story and characters and I was disappointed. I like what I read as Ness's message - you have to step up and be the Chosen One of your own life - but it's nothing I haven't seen before. I'll still look forward to whatever Ness publishes next, but I'll be hoping for something more along the lines of the Chaos Walking series.

Fear (Gone, book five)
By Michael Grant

Published 2012 by Katherine Tegen Books
It's been a year since the FAYZ was created and the kids have survived more than they ever thought possible. But still, nothing could prepare them for the newest embodiment of the Darkness.

I finished book four with less than enthusiastic thoughts about the next in the series - I was maybe getting a little worn out and wondering exactly how much these kids would be made to endure before things would end finally. Luckily, I enjoyed book five much more than the previous entry. I loved that Grant started providing perspective from outside the FAYZ - it felt refreshing at this point in the series to finally hear what exactly the world thought about the happenings inside the bubble. I also really appreciate Grant's ability to make me care about so many different characters - and I mean that both in terms of number and in terms of personalities. There is not a single character that I feel ambivalent about - I either love them or hate them and I sure as heck remember them all. Finally, I really like that Grant deals with some spectacularly tough issues in this series - in this one, motherhood and maternal instincts is a topic at the forefront for several characters. I like that Grant is getting teens to think about these issues in a way that isn't overwhelming and might make them care about thinking through these topics.

The Sorceress (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, book three)
By Michael Scott, read by Paul Boehmer
Published 2009 by Listening Library
Perenelle is trapped in Alcatraz, Scatty is missing, and the twins are still learning to harness their powers. Can Flamel keep them safe from the forces of evil?

I probably have the least to say about this one. My husband and I have listened to the first three books together and I think our feelings on the series are pretty similar - neither of us is particularly impressed. Sure, it's got enough adventure and excitement to keep you mostly engaged, but it tempers all that with a lot of long info-dumping passages that explain something from history or mythology. It throws off the pacing of the book and, at times, can feel condescending to readers (and the characters, I suppose). I still think Josh and Sophie are my least favorite characters of the books, which should probably be a big red flag right there. But I liked that this one had a separate Perenelle-focused story. I missed Scatty, though.

The Heart of Betrayal (The Remnant Chronicles, book two)
By Mary E. Pearson
Published 2015 by Henry Holt and Co.
Probably spoilers for book one. You've been warned.
Lia is now a captive and in order to ensure her safety - as well as Rafe's - she must continue to hold the attention of the Vendans, particularly the Komizar. But she walks a very fine line between holding attention and flaunting her disobedience. Will Lia make the choices that will keep her alive?

I felt mostly ambivalent about book one, but the cliffhanger ending ensured that I'd be returning for book two. I'm glad I did. I think this one is a marked improvement on the first - things are starting to make more sense, details of the worldbuilding are filling in, and I genuinely care about the characters now. I still find the forced tension between the two male characters quite tedious - NOT EVERYTHING NEEDS A LOVE TRIANGLE, AUTHORS! - but since I actually like them both, I'm glad they're both in the novel. I enjoyed seeing Lia really come into her powers here - and not just her supernatural powers. She really embraces her womanhood and uses it to her advantage. Ooh, and I really loved the ending, when Lia and Rafe finally get news (of a sort) from his kingdom. And this one ends on an even bigger cliffhanger than book one, so, yup, anxiously awaiting book three!

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