Book Review: Mockingjay

August 26, 2010

In 2008, Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novel The Hunger Games reached popular and critical acclaim for its compelling portrayal of the intricacies of love and loyalty when set against the human desire to survive. Its sequel, Catching Fire, moved seamlessly into the lengths to which an oppressive ruling power will stretch to maintain their fragile control, and what it takes to forge a revolution. In Mockingjay, the third and final chronicle of the Hunger Games, Collins takes us on a spare-no-glance tour of the cost of war on a nation and on the human soul, and of how far we are willing to go in defense of a fragile conception of moral right.

Katniss Everdeen, the Girl Who was on Fire, has survived two of the infamous death matches known as the Hunger Games and has unintentionally made herself into the symbol of the resistance against the Capitol’s tyrannical rule. Peeta, the one person who has been through as much as she has and understands, has been captured by the Capitol. District 12, her home, is a firebombed ruin. All around her war rages– the districts are revolting, and at last President Snow’s regime will be toppled or will crush them all.

Katniss is safe in the hands of the surviving District 13, protected as the face of a revolution must be. Inside, she is terrified by the loss of Peeta, enraged by the abuses of the Capitol, and discomfited by the “allies” who seek to use her standing for their own ends. The only stable thing in her life seems to be Gale, her oldest remaining friend, and even he seems to be someone she doesn’t quite recognize any more. Amidst all of this, Katniss must put aside her misgivings and come to terms with the fact that she is the Mockingjay, a symbol of hope for a nation, who is responsible for countless lives.

Anyone who has read one or both of the previous Hunger Games books knows that Suzanne Collins pulls no punches with her vivid prose, but even knowing this I wasn’t prepared for the brutality of Mockingjay. This is a book about love, trust, family, and heroism, true, but above all else it is a story of war and what war does to us. You will not necessarily like this book; you may come out of it hating Collins, Katniss, Peeta, Gale, or any other of the numerous characters. But it will resonate with you, and that, combined with your hatred, will be how you know Collins succeeded in what she set out to do– her characters are human. They have human lusts, fears, weaknesses, and strengths. Their every defeat is diluted by hope, and their every victory is tainted by regret. At the end, you will be hard pressed to say who won, exactly, because each side– every individual, in fact–left so indelible a mark on the outcome that the idea of “winning” seems nothing more than a nostalgic fantasy from before everything was set in motion.


Abbreviated Review: Poison (Poole)

August 4, 2010

*ARC Alert*

Poison by Sara Poole was released on August 3rd, 2010 by St. Martin’s Griffin, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press (Paperback, $14.99, 416 pages; also available in Kindle format).

Francesca Giordano knows a little something about working in the world of men– she is a poisoner in the employ of the Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, one of the most powerful men in Rome. It is her task not only to arrange deaths for Borgia’s enemies, but to protect the family she serves from the poisoners of others. She does all of this with a single-minded drive which cannot be dispelled even by questions about sin and her stained soul, something quite impressive for a denizen of the Catholic Church’s city. Her ultimate goal? Revenge for the murder of her father, who was Borgia’s poisoner before her. This private goal leads Francesca into a tangled web of very public lies, intrigue, and looming slaughter, a web which she must help to untangle if she has any hope for peace with who and what she is. Five stars.


Abbreviated Review: Permanent Obscurity (Perez)

August 4, 2010

*ARC Alert*

Permanent Obscurity: Or, a Cautionary Tale of Two Girls and Their Misadventures with Drugs, Pornography, and Death by Richard Perez was released on April 1st, 2010 by Ludlow Press (Trade Paperback, $15.95, 464 pages; also available in Kindle format).

Dolores and Serena are two best friends living a life of drugs and art in New York City, dealing with boyfriends and trying to make ends meet. This gets harder and harder as the girls discover that they’re heavily in debt to a lot of people, some of them threatening. Then Serena hits on the perfect plan: they plan to take back control of their lives– and their wallets– by making a femdom/fetish film. This is not an erotica, despite what the cover and the premise might say. There is sex, BDSM, some homosexual activity, all sorts of stuff, but none of that is the point of the book. Just so everyone is forewarned.

I enjoyed the premise of this book, and the dynamic between Dolores and Serena, but felt that it took too long to hit its stride. The first 350 pages were basically rising action which could have been halved in length and would have then served the plot better. After that point Perez picked up speed and ratcheted the tension up quickly. From there it almost went too quickly, so a shift of length might have been in order there, to make it more balanced. Other than that, no complaints. Three stars.

This book contains explicit sexual content.


Abbreviated Review: Hailey’s War (Compton)

July 27, 2010

Because of the largish nature of my current to-review list, I’ve decided to do abbreviated reviews until I get things back under control. Each one will include a teaser and a star rating. I’m terribly sorry to you readers and to the authors who worked so hard on these, to not do the books justice, but regular reviews will return once my workload is down some. Thank you for your patience.

*ARC Alert*

Hailey’s War by Jodi Compton was released on June 15th, 2010 by the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House (Hardcover, $22.99, 336 pages; also available as a Kindle edition and in various audio formats).

Hailey Cain is a 24 year-old West Point dropout with a past she doesn’t talk about and no future. She lives in San Francisco, earns her living as a bike messenger, and makes a hobby of discouraging people from jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge. She has only two people that she is close to– her successful music-producer cousin CJ and her friend Serena, leader of an all-female gang in L.A. It is when Serena calls asking for a favor that everything in Hailey’s small, precariously built life comes tumbling down.

It doesn’t seem like a terribly big deal. A cousin of one of Serena’s girls needs an escort across the border into Mexico so that she can take care of a sick grandmother. Hailey starts to suspect that maybe there’s more to the story when they’re caught by a bunch of thugs out on the Mexican highway, she’s shot and left for dead, and the cousin is kidnapped. So begins Hailey’s personal mission against a powerful enemy that she knows nothing about, a war which will draw her into complex web of choices about loyalty, self-preservation, courage, and her own past.

Four stars.


Book Review: Infinite Days (Maizel)

July 22, 2010

*ARC alert*

Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel will be released on August 3rd, 2010 by St. Martin’s Griffin (Trade Paperback, $9.99, 320 pages). It is the first in the Vampire Queen series and Maizel’s debut novel.

Like the “dog books” from my previous post, “dark” teen dramaromances have a certain formula– an awesomely hot and probably well-off teen girl, attending high school and possibly haunted by her dark past, falls for the hottest, most elite guy at school. He reciprocates. At least one of them is a vampire/faery/something hot and supernatural. The by now well-established minigenre includes books which I actually enjoyed, like Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely, and a lot that I didn’t, e.g. the Twilight series and Alyson Noel’s Evermore. Infinite Days, admittedly, falls under that category and shares some of its flaws.

On the other hand, its premise is completely original and quite interesting– after 500-odd years of terrorizing the general populace, Lenah Beaudonte decides that vampirism holds only illusive charms and seeks a way to regain her humanity. After a hundred years of hibernation and a ritual that involved the self-sacrifice of her best friend and lover, she wakes up in the year 2010 and finds herself needing to learn how to be human again in a new and confusing century.

Lenah herself makes for a strong and often funny voice that I was able to connect with emotionally. Though she seemed at times to be a bit too capable, I surprised myself by liking her– she didn’t take the angsty, desperate tone of so many dramaromance “heroines,” and I’m willing to believe that a 592-year old can handle a lot. Her story, too, was well-though out and engaging, though it dragged the tiniest bit toward the end of part one. Overall, I loved her discovery of day-to-day existence and the backdrop of flashbacks to vampire life and lore that she contrasted it with.

I did suffer from some Pretty in Pink syndrome with this, though. You know, where by the end of the movie everyone in the room is going “No, Andie! You have to choose Ducky!” I found myself biased against Lenah’s love interest, Justin, perhaps because he was the Edward of this story (in role only, thank the gods). Personally I liked Lenah’s friend Tony a lot more, but I can’t complain too much since Maizel did give sufficient support for the romance and lack of it, respectively, and didn’t try to run with it too badly.

And as my final point, I want to say that this read like the first novel it is. I don’t mean that in a bad way; Maizel is obviously worthy of having been published and will no doubt have several more books ahead of her. What I mean to say is that you can tell just by reading it that this is her breakout book; the ideas are fresh and vibrant, but the prose is somewhat rough, even choppy in places. I have every faith that she will improve with practice.

So. Go ahead and pick this one up for its original take on the vampire mythos and likable main character, but be ready to accept that it’s a long read for its 320 pages, and that it does contain elements of established stereotype in the romance aspect of the plot. I would nevertheless recommend it to fans of the genre and perhaps those looking for a good book to introduce them to dark teen dramaromance hibbijabba (a genre that really needs a better name than I am providing).


Book Review: A Dog’s Purpose (Cameron)

June 22, 2010

*ARC Alert*

A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron will be released on July 6th, 2010 by Forge Books (Hardcover, $22.99, 320 pages).

Ever since around the time Marley & Me came out, the “dog book” has been a strong genre. Mostly they’re memoirs, but the occasional novel, like this one, fit into the group by following the formula, which parallels actual dog ownership– laughter and love, ended by heartbreak. A Dog’s Purpose takes this journey across multiple lifetimes with the dog who is first Toby, then reincarnated as Bailey (the name I’ll use for this review), Ellie and Buddy. Each time he finds purpose and meaning by linking his life to humans, and each time he dies thinking that his journey has ended and his duty fulfilled, only to discover himself born again in search of an even higher calling.

The best, most pervasive part of this book was how absolutely dog the narration was. Of course, we can’t know what goes on inside our furry friends’ heads for sure, but as of the first chapter of this book, I imagine it to be exactly as Cameron paints it. (I’ve found that it benefits my puppy as well– instead of being angry when she gets into the garbage, I laugh at her imagined confusion in response to my reprimand. “The girl is obviously confused. How can it be a bad dog idea to eat out of the can? Does she know that there’s chicken in the can?”) Bailey is full of such doggy wit and wisdom in all of his incarnations. In fact, the only thing that matches his humour is his heart– just like any good dog.

As necessitated by the “dog book” genre, I cried a few times in the middle and definitely at the end. However, mostly I laughed, and laughed often and out loud. When I was finished I handed it off to my mother, who enjoys such books, and she had pretty much the same reaction. I would recommend this to anyone who loves dogs, or humour, or stories about life, or humourous stories about dogs’ lives. I think Kirkus Reviews put it best when they described it as “Marley & Me combined with Tuesdays With Morrie“. Truly, a touching tale.


Book Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Jemisin)

May 28, 2010

I am not as I once was. They have done this to me, broken me open and torn out my heart. I do not know who I am anymore.

I must try to remember.

These are the first words of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, book one of the Inheritance Trilogy. From this enigmatic beginning the story unfolds in a way that is both disjointed and arrestingly personal. In most books narrated in the first person, the narrator tells us what happened to them without mentioning any bearing that it has on them now– they relate the events of their story, occasionally offering insight, but never making it clear what has happened since it ended or why they are offering it. Yeine proffers her tale in tantalizing bits and pieces, mixed up and out of order, interrupted by distracted tangents that support the assumption that she is looking back on all of this with regret. She may be talking to the reader, or simply to herself, but from this jumble she draws pieces that she draws together more and more tightly, right up until the dramatic finish. I loved Jemisin’s bizarre but highly effective style.

But I’ve gotten a bit out of order myself– it’s rather essential to mention what it is the story is about, wouldn’t you say? I’ll see if I can do it justice.

Yeine Darr is an outlander from the barbarian north of the empire that is the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. When her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the royal city of Sky, where, to her shock, she is named one of the heirs to the king’s throne. Despite the fact that Yeine would rather go home and deal with the monarchy from afar, ruling her own people as best she can, she is quickly drawn into a tangled web of conspiracy and lies which centers around the relationship between the Arameri (the ruling family) and the gods, who the Arameri long ago pulled down from their pedestals and enslaved, and who are every bit as terrifying as, but in ways more human than, Yeine’s royal relations. What Yeine cannot puzzle out is exactly why the Arameri would be interested in her— let alone the gods. Only two things are certain in the floating city of light and secrets– Yeine is held out of her depth by those around her, and many of them want her dead.

This book contains explicit sexual content.