Monthly Archives: June 2012

Review #45 Insurgent by Veronica Roth

I’ve always found second novels in a trilogy hard.

I blame this almost entirely on George Lucas since I was part of the generation that saw the “first” Star Wars movies on the big screen (Don’t even get me started on that numbering system!)  I can still remember emerging into daylight from “The Empire Strikes Back” is a depressed, numb haze.  Han Solo was frozen in carbonite, Luke has not only lost a hand, he’d just discovered that Darth Vader was his FATHER and nothing felt quite right with the world.  The incredible joy and optimism I’d felt watching Star Wars had been replaced by a dark cloud and a little voice inside yelling “I have to wait HOW long until I find out what happens?”

There are plenty of first novels, most notably Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, that I wish had stood alone as books instead of being mucked with.  This is the single biggest change that I have noticed in the past two decades… the pressure to create stories, characters and worlds that can be broken up into installments, marketed and merchandised.  Whatever happened to simply telling a great story?

Given my apparent “secondbookaphobia”, I approached Insurgent with trepidation, especially since the first novel had impressed me so greatly. Veronica Roth’s amazing sequel to Divergent not only healed some of those scars… it may have healed some entirely. For the first time, I discovered a second book in a trilogy that I actually liked better than the first!

Since so much of this incredible tale depends on plot twists that blind side you, action that takes your breath away and the deepening of characters introduced in the first novel, I am not going to ruin anyone’s fun by giving away details that any website could provide.  Instead, I will commend Roth for her astounding ability to create such a unique, captivating and vivid dystopian fantasy.  I was so thoroughly engrossed in reading one section that my teenagers actually searched the house to see where Mom had disappeared to!

The strength of the main character, Tris, was also one of the reasons that I love these books. As John Wayne so aptly said “Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.”  Despite the traumas endured in the first novel and the shifting layers of her entire world in the second novel, Tris emerges as an empowering example for young women of pushing through fears and challenges while staying true to yourself.

The end of Insurgent took my breath away with its stunning revelations.  It also recaptured some of the joy and wonder of being able to imagine your own ending that is so sadly lacking in modern storytelling.  Like the ending of the movie Inception, there was the possibility to imagine what might happen beyond the story you’d just enjoyed.  Imaginative readers will have the chance mull over some intriguing options as they wait (I cannot promise that it will be patiently) for this accomplished writer to release the third book, so far untitled, in this innovative series.

Hardcover format, 525 pages, published in May 2012 by Harper Collins

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Review #44 Night Pleasures by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Unlike many of the more traditional romance novels, Night Pleasures does not feature a bare chested man in some heroic pose or a slender woman swooning against his rippling muscles.  One of the many things that makes Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter novels so unique is the variety of ways in which they forge paths of their own instead of conforming to the expected.

Night Pleasures is Kenyon’s second novel in this amazing series.  It details the struggles that  the Immortal Kyrian of Thrace and paranormal-denying human Amanda Devereaux must face from the moment they awaken handcuffed together.  The forces of evil have mistaken Amanda for her vampire-slayer twin sister, Tabitha, in the hopes that she and Kyrian will destroy each other before the God-forged handcuffs are removed.

The story starts with steamy scenes and handcuffs… then devolves into a romping adventure so blatantly sensual that I found the story hard to read if my teenagers were close by.  Too many questions about why Mom is blushing that deeply!  This book also features the first appearance of Nick Gautier (albeit an older version who has his driver’s license but is still a Squire) and Kyrian’s Spanish housekeeper, Rosa.  There seemed to be  a slight inconsistency or two in some minor details… but since The Chronicles of Nick deals with a future that keeps shifting slightly, these can certainly be chalked up to the eternal time paradox escape clause!

The more I read Kenyon’s works, the more impressed I am with her vivid prose, incredible sensuality and captivating characters.  Her ability to carve out a new genre in the heavily saturated romance novel world is a testament to her writing ability.  The Chronicles of Nick series certainly proved that she doesn’t need graphic sexual scenes to sell a good story… but with the summer on it’s way, I also don’t mind having a new author and a slew of steamy books to make any rainy weather more bearable! Very few “bodice rippers” written by anyone other than Nora Roberts have remained in my household library.  Now that I am beginning to track down the Dark Hunter novels to read in the recommended chronological order, I will need to make more book shelf space among the Ks this summer to accommodate the growing collection!

Paperback format, 309 pages, published in 2002 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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Review #43 Divergent by Veronica Roth

Every so often a novel comes along that shatters the mold of its genre and pushes the boundaries of what you expected.  In the slew of Dystopian novels I’ve read as part of the CannonballRead#4 challenge, Divergent stands out as the most unique and captivating first novel I’ve read since I bought a copy of The Hunger Games at a SCBWI conference in New York  in 2009.  My family devoured the book and knew long before the series became so popular that it was a story that stood apart from others.

Divergent is as unique a novel in its own way and perhaps even more captivating.  The plot has been summarized countless times but here are the barest facts for those who still have not heard about this story. It is set in a dystopian version of Chicago where society has been divided into 5 distinct Factions; Candor (who prize honesty), Abnegation (who embrace selflessness), Dauntless (who embody bravery), Amity (who seek Peace), and Erudite (who strive for knowledge).  Regardless of which Faction they grow up in, on the appointed  day of their 16th year, after special testing, each young person must publicly choose which Faction they will belong to or become one of the Factionless who live in abject poverty and squalor. The only problem is that a few special people can belong to more than one faction… their personalities are unique enough that they can be hunted.  Right before she has to choose, Beatrice Prior discovers that she is different… that she is Divergent.  Revealing that could endanger her new life as she leaves her Abnegation family and Faction behind… that is if the training to be accepted as a full member of the Dauntless Faction doesn’t kill her first.

Divergent took my breath away. This is the single most impressive book I’ve discovered in the past few years.  I found myself riveted by the struggles of the main character to define herself against all of the rules and philosophies that she had grown up with.  It was as empowering a tale as it was captivating, challenging readers of any age to be true to themselves and who they really are, even as it kept them glued to the pages with a futuristic, breathlessly vivid and suspenseful story. I truly admire a new writer that can keep me guessing  as to where the story is headed!  Divergent was as powerful a read for me at 46 as it was for my 17 and 13 year old daughters.  All of us inhaled this book and then fought over who would read the sequel next.  Since I am the Mom (and I bought Insurgent)… I won!

Paperback format, 487 pages, published in 2012 by Harper Collins

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Review #42 Fantasy Lover by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Having read and reviewed the first 3 novels in the Chronicles of Nick Young Adult series, I decided to pick up a few of Sherrilyn’s other novels in the Dark Hunter series to read how the adventures all began.  Fantasy Lover was published in 2002 and laid the foundation for the incredibly detailed and riveting world or romance, magic and all things paranormal that Kenyon has become famous for.

Like many typical romance novels, Fantasy Lover begins with two apparently star-crossed lovers.  Grace Alexander is a young, urban professional woman but Julian is an ancient Spartan warrior who has been trapped in a book by a two thousand year old curse.  He may only be released to fulfill someone’s sexual fantasies as a love-slave before being trapped back into the book’s pages.

Reading the back jacket intrigued me.  Reading the inside story caused my pulse to race on several occasions.  I think that even Nora Roberts would blush at some of the vivid and passionate scenes contained in these pages.  Small wonder that these books seemed a bit too risqué for some publishers a decade ago when most romance novels were historical but not also paranormal.  What makes Kenyon’s writing so unique is not only the detailed plots and twists, but the strong, believable characters.  There is plenty of pathos and compassion, heroism and selflessness as well as intrigue and attention to detail.  There are also scenes that might make you blush!

The second book in this series, Night Pleasures, apparently deals with Nick’s mentor, Kyrian and the resolution of his particular Dark Hunter curse… so of course I had to venture out to the bookstore yet again…

Sigh! So many wonderful books and only 24 hours in each day…

Paperback format, 337 pages, published in 2002 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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Review #41 Svaha by Charles de Lint

There are books that you read which change how you think about the world.  There are also books that write about subject matter and issues far ahead of the trends.  Svaha by Charles de Lint is both of those for me… altering the way I think about our environment and a true dystopian tale written some 20 years ahead of the current bandwagon.

Svaha, a Native word for the moment between seeing the lightning and hearing it’s thunder or the waiting for promises to be fulfilled, is an incredible tale set not to far into our own future.  Thanks to the fame and fortune of a single Native American musician in the 1990s who invested in the education of his People, the “Clavers” as they are called by the rest of the world, became the most technologically savvy race on the planet and withdrew into Enclaves of their own design after New York and Lost Angeles were destroyed by terrorist warheads and the rest of society began to crumble. By the time the Food Riots hit Europe, Russia and the United States had collapsed after a limited nuclear exchange and Japan had claimed Canada, there were 12 Enclaves across North America, two in South America, two in Australia, one in Africa and one in Siberia as well as 3 space stations owned by the  Native Nations.  These united tribes withdrew from the Outer Lands to preserve what they could of Mother Earth while everything else fell into chaos and a huge gulf between what the rich and the poor could afford emerged.

The story begins in the endless sprawl of the Toronto-Quebec Corridor where the “plexes” offer safety to the wealthy and the squats are the home of those who are just struggling to get by.  Beyond this tenuous hold on civilization lie the Wastes where bands of radiation poisoned humans prey on whatever or whoever are foolish enough to wander into the barren territories.  Gahzee has been sent on a one-way mission from his Enclave to find out why one of their flyers has gone missing and to ensure that the computer chip with its advanced technology and closely guarded secrets, does not fall into the wrong hands.  Along the way, he discovers that perhaps Dreamtime and Realtime are not as far apart as they once seemed.  Can the ancient knowledge of his people reach out to those in need of hope?  Will he find a new tribe among these strangers or a new band of enemies against which to fight?

Svaha is one of the most amazing books I have ever read.  I made the mistake of loaning my original copy to a friend after it was Out-of-Print.  When this edition was released in 2000, I bought it the minute I saw it to fill the void on my shelves.  After reading it again as part of this challenge, I made my oldest daughter read it to compare to the current slew of dystopian novels we’ve been devouring.  Like me, she found it hard to put down, engrossing and thought-provoking to read and satisfying in how well the story ended.  The blend of Japanese culture and language with the Native philosophy was even more appreciated since our visit to Tokyo last year.

If you have never read this incredible book, it should be on your bucket list!  I hope that some of the younger readers out there will discover there are tales told over 20 years ago that deserve as much attention as the “newest” ones they read right now.

Paperback format, 300 pages, originally published in 1989 by Ace Books.

First Orb edition by Tom Doherty Associates November 2000  ISBN 0-312-87650-5

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Review #40 Blackveil by Kristen Britain

Since the publication of her first novel, Green Rider, in 1998, Kristen Britain has gone on to weave more tales about her heroine Karigan G’ladheon and the elite messenger corps of Sacoridia that Karigan belongs to.  Blackveil is the 4th of these novels and well worth the four year wait since The High King’s Tomb came out in 2007.  By now, I have accepted the fact that there will usually be a 3 to 5 year wait for the next installment in the incredibly intricate saga that she is weaving.  Each novel, except perhaps the first one, has left me hanging and growling in frustration at the thought of waiting for the next book to come out, yet each part of the tale is so deftly and enjoyably told that I cannot regret the time she spends to ensure the story is properly told.

Like many of her counterparts who write about worlds that only exist due to their imagination, Kristen Britain does a wonderful job of setting strong, engaging and believable characters in a unique society and culture of her own creation. Her scrappy character, who once appeared to have been recruited into the Rider’s Corps by accident, has grown through her trials and adventures into one of the most famous Riders since the Long War.  Her special abilities have saved the kingdom and its handsome young King Zachary on more than one occasion.  Though Karigan has been made a Knight of the Realm, she is still from a merchant background and thus a commoner.  She and the King share strong feelings for one another which must go unrequited for the good of all Sacordia, especially now that Zachary must marry another to ensure the stability of the Kingdom and Karigan must venture with a party of Elves into the Blackveil Forest.  For a thousand years, that edge of the kingdom was protected by a magical wall, but the barrier has been breached and evil is able to slip through.  Did Karigan send the evil Mornhavon the Black far enough into the future during her last battle in the forest or is he lurking just a few years into their future?

Blackveil ends with the worst cliffhanger yet and actually provoked a loud squeal of frustration… but I have many, MANY books to read until the fifth in this series becomes available.  I also know that when the next one is finally written and scheduled for release, I will have the pleasure of rereading this novel and the other 3 to “remind myself” of all the plot intricacies before I savour the next installment in her wonderful tale.  Write Faster, Kristen!

Paperback format, 663 pages, published in 2011 by Daw Books

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Review #39 Two-Part Invention

Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage by Madeleine L’Engle

Several of my friends are going through rough times in their relationships.  Marriages are breaking up, partners are changing careers or having to move, illness rears its ugly head, pregnancies develop complications.  All of these can put strains on the bonds that tie two human being together.

I found myself turning to the pages of Madeleine L’Engle’s Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage in the midst of this turmoil  Though critics and some of her family members have complained about the accuracy of some events and portrayals, the fact remains that I have always found the books created from fleshing out her journals to be thought-provoking and insightful.  I journal myself and I know that when you capture words, events, thoughts and feelings onto pages, you can only see through your own perspective.  This touching book deals with how she met her husband, grew with him, raised a family, juggled their careers and then lost him slowly to cancer at the age of 70. Whether or not it is glamourized or edited compared to what really happened in their relationship is not as important to me as gaining strength and inspiration from reading about how someone else wrestled with things.

Like many of L’Engle’s other books, Two-Part Invention is a blend of faith exploration, philosophical musings, biographical writing and self-examination.  I have read and reread her work so many times that passages are underlined in different colours, leaving a rainbow tapestry of inspiration behind for the next visit. I was able to copy this passage out for a friend in the hopes that Madeleine’s words would bring comfort amid the trials and tribulations that my friend was enduring.

‘I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights.  It is when things go wrong, when the good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present.  We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly.  We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.’

I grew up reading most of L’Engle’s incredible, award-winning stories for children and young adults.  It was comforting this time to turn to one of her nonfiction works, published the same year I was married to my own amazing husband, to find words from which I could draw strength to share with friends.

Paperback format, 232 pages, published in 1989 by Harper & Row

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Review #38 Infamous by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Infamous is the third book in the Chronicles of Nick YA series written by Sherrilyn Kenyon.  After reading the second novel, Invincible, I decided that I couldn’t possibly wait for this next installment to come on sale or be published in a paperback format.  That is usually one of the true tests for a series.  As a voracious and speedy reader, I tend to try to stretch my book budget as far as possible.  This year’s Cannonball Read #4 challenge has made me throw caution to the wind on more than one occasion and just indulge!

Infamous begins as grippingly as Invincible ended. Nick Gautier has just discovered that the man he thought was his uncle offering advice is actually his future self trying to undo a terrible reality that brings on the world’s destruction.  Nick now knows that his father is not just a criminal, but a ferocious demon who choses to live in prison to feed off the evil energy that pools in such places.  Talk about  a heavy burden to bear at 14!  Is the future set in stone no matter what?  Will those closest to him still protect him or bring about his destruction once they learn the truth.  Can he trust his own advice from the future or is he embarking on a new path because of the brave choices he continues to make?

This novel was probably the most satisfying of the series so far.  Nick is still a wonderful blend of sarcasm, spunk and teenage cockiness, but the challenges that are now being thrust upon him push him to the limits of his emotional and physical endurance.  Kenyon has known her own share of hardships in her life and somehow transposes some of her own indomitable tenacity into her main character.  The story lines are touching and the adventure is EPIC!  The way the characters weave together unexpectedly only makes this story shine.  From the way Bubba’s mother gripes at him to the pathos of how people deal with tragedy, Infamous is a roller coaster ride that can have you laughing then tearing up in less than a dozen pages.  Amid so many of the series churned out to entice young readers, the Chronicles of Nick stands out as one I would heartily recommend to anyone between 13 and 93 who loves great stories and doesn’t mind descriptions of things that go bump in the night.  It will be a long wait until March 2013 when book 4 in the series Inferno is due out.  In the meantime, I will explore her other adult romance novels where Nick first appeared and know that I will have the fun of rereading the first 3 once the 4th one is published, just to make sure that I remember all the great details!

Hardcover format, 468 pages, published in 2012 by St. Martin’s Griffin

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Review #36 & 37 Halt’s Peril and the Emperor of Nihon-Ja

I’d been waiting patiently for these two books in the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan to come out in paperback format to add to my collection.  Amid the chaos or two daughters wrapping up their volleyball seasons and trying to recover from whiplash, reading became my little bit of escapism.

Halt’s Peril and The Emperor of Nihon-Ja are both true coming of age novels for the main characters Will and  Horace.  In the first novel, the famous King’s Ranger, his former apprentice and the young knight are pursuing members of the dangerous Outsiders cult when the unthinkable happens.  During an ambush by hired assassins, Halt is wounded by an arrow that turns out to be poisoned!  Roles are reversed as Halt lies dying and Will must ride across the rugged terrain to seek a former friend and ally. Malkallam the Sorcerer just might be the only one who can save Will’s beloved mentor.

Laced with the usual combination of dry wit, humour and epic adventure, Halt’s Peril is a touching glimpse into the letting go that must occur as people age.  Any teacher and student or parent and child knows there comes a time to let go and move on to a more balanced relationship.  Though Will has been a Ranger in his own right for a few years now, this novel captures all of the respect and admiration the young man has for his mentor, as well as the terrible realization that Halt is not invulnerable.

The second novel, The Emperor of Nihon-Ja, deals more with Horace, a gifted young warrior and one of Will’s closest friends.  Sent on a diplomatic mission to the faraway kingdom of Nihon-Ja, Horace gets caught up in a coup against the lawful Emperor. Unwilling to leave the honorable man he has come to respect at the mercy of a usurper spreading lies about the countryside while hunting them down, Will flees with those loyal to the true Emperor towards a legendary city in the mountains that may offer a chance to defend themselves against grim odds.  Back in Araluen, Will, Alyss and Princess Evanlyn have learned of their friend’s peril and set off to help if they can.

This book was a wonderful conclusion to a sweeping adventure series that proves great fantasy begins with great characters.  Everyone shines in their roles and the interplay between the personalities is both enjoyable and touching.  They have truly grown, from the orphans who first chose their professions at the beginning of the series, to the competent young men and women they are in this final novel.  The Nihon-Ja kingdom is heavily based on the Japanese Samurai culture and includes many Japanese phrases.  Having visited Tokyo just over a year ago, I did notice one small error in an expression, but delighted in some of the other humour and cultural references that writer John  Flanagan wove into the tale.

Flanagan’s next adventures will take readers back into the past of his world, exploring a dozen years earlier with his new series called the Brotherband Chronicles. Book One: The Outcasts has been available in hardcover format for a while and Book Two:  The Invaders was just release in May.  I may not add the books to my shelves just yet, but they will certainly be worthy additions to my library when the time comes.  This Australian author writes with such enthusiasm, humour and authenticity, I am sure that his novels will be read for generations to come!

Halt’s Peril

Paperback format, 386 pages, hardcover published in 2009 by Puffin Books

The Emperor of Nihon-Ja

Paperback format, 435 pages, hardcover published in 2010 by Puffin Books

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