Rook

book-rook_307x462First Lines: The heavy blade hung high above the prisoners, glinting against the stars, and then the Razor came down, a wedge of falling darkness cutting through the torchlight.  One solid thump, and four more heads had been shaved from their bodies.

I bought this book ages ago from Scholastic and it just kept showing up on my shelf.  It was the kind of thing that I wanted to read, for sure, but it never seemed like I was quite in the mood for a dystopian that almost doubled as a historical fiction.

In the Sunken City, a place once known as Paris, a revolution is about to tear the city apart.  Anyone who opposes the new regime is beheaded swiftly and efficiently.  But occasionally, prisoners disappear from their cells with only a red-tipped rook feather left behind.  The Red Rook is a hero to the innocent and a criminal to the government.  Across the sea on an island called the Commonwealth, Sophia Bellamy’s arranged marriage to Rene Hasard could be the only thing that saves her family from ruin.  But when the search for the Red Rook lands on her doorstep, Sophia learns that her fiance may not be all that he appears to be.  Which is only fair, seeing that Sophia has her own secrets as well.  As the Red Rook grows bolder, Sophia and Rene find themselves in a dangerous–and deadly–game of cat and mouse.  Will the hunt for the Red Rook tear them apart…or bring them together?

Generally, it was pretty good. Sophia is a strong female character, who we quickly learn will not be the quiet, simpering miss that some of the men in her life wish she would be. She’s not going to sit back and let others control her. I liked that she was a fighter. And then there’s her fiance, Rene, who is not what he seems. He is a character that takes some warming up to because he’s so layered, but it’s worth it.  He’s a great example of giving depth through characterization.

I will admit that the beginning does seem a bit slow and takes a while for the action to get going. There’s kind of a lot to set up, like the fact that this story is set hundreds and hundreds of years after what they call “the Great Death” and that they have anti-technology pacts to keep them from using or creating machines. (They believed that was the downfall of the Ancients, which means us.)

Truly, it does really just feel like a skewed retelling of the French Revolution, which the author says was her inspiration to this story. You have a France in turmoil, divided by class and ruled by a man who incites that fury, feeds on it. You have men in power who are completely delusional and have started their own religions which put them in power as a high priest of sorts. Anyone (and I mean anyone) can be killed by the Razor at dawn if you irritate the wrong person. And that’s all why the Red Rook exists, stealing prisoners from the Tombs and freeing them under the noses of the bumbling officials.  It’s like a French Revolution version of Robin Hood, basically.

The closer you get to the end, the more twists and turns there are. You start questioning motives, things you thought were facts, and how certain things are going to work. I liked that a lot got revealed that I wasn’t expecting.  Actually, I just liked that I couldn’t call how it was going to end.

I also really like that this is a standalone dystopia. How often do you see those? It wraps up everything in this one book, which means that there’s a lot of action, excitement, and yes, a few deaths.  But what’s a war if there aren’t sacrifices?

While it wasn’t perfect, it was really enjoyable.  I had a lot of fun reading this.

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Unite Me (Shatter Me, #1.5, #2.5)

l164674First Lines: I’ve been shot.  And, as it turns out, a bullet wound is even more uncomfortable than I had imagined.

I saw this at the library and thought it would be a great way to finally finish off the Shatter Me series.  Of course, I’ve read all the actual book, but I wanted to say I was done with all the novellas too.  (The novellas included are Destroy Me and Fracture Me, as well as Juliette’s Journal.)

Just a brief description here, Destroy Me (#1.5) is Warner’s perspective right after Shatter Me.  Even though Juliette’s gone, Warner can’t stop thinking about her.  Fracture Me is an overlap of the end of Unravel Me and a quick lead-in to what happens after, told from Adam’s perspective.

I think it might be easier to review both of these novellas individually.

Destroy Me – At this point in the series, Warner is incredibly hard to like.  Even knowing what happens later in the series, Warner just kind of creeps me out here.  He is fixated on Juliette to the point of near obsession.  But on top of that, it’s also interesting to see what The Reestablishment is like for someone on the inside.  Warner is in an unenviable position and he has to deal with some very harsh realities.  This story tends to be a little more psychological in its action.

Fracture Me – This story tucked into familiar territory, overlapping quite a bit with Unravel Me.  The truly interesting part of this story is seeing Juliette from Adam’s perspective because she has tics that she doesn’t really seem to be aware of in the series.  And with all the action that takes place in the story at this point, there really wasn’t a dull moment at all.  Definitely physical in its action.

What’s truly interesting is that in very short order, we get to see Warner’s, Adam’s, and Juliette’s perspectives.  And Mafi gives each one a very different voice.  This is actually kind of genius.

For example, Juliette’s voice is what we’re most familiar with.  It’s almost musical in its repetition and vivid imagery.  She compares dissimilar things all the time to describe what she’s feeling.  It’s beautiful and lets you see what her mind is like, how her earlier trauma has impacted her.  Adam, similarly, seems very in-tune with his emotions.  He observes details that somehow tie in to either his emotions or the emotions of those around him.  (He sees when people are upset, notices when something makes them edgy, etc.)  But Warner is more clinical.  He observes for the factual information, for the way those observations can be used against someone.  And that’s totally a creation of his upbringing.  But it’s so fascinating that Mafi was able to be so in-tune with these characters that she can do this.  I didn’t even catch on until I was reading Adam’s story and then I noticed the differences.

These stories are a nice way of stepping your feet back into the Shatter Me world without having to reread the whole series.

Until The Beginning (After the End, #2)

22445886*Potential Series Spoilers IN THE FIRST LINES.  You were warned.*

First Lines: Miles has been dead for one hour.

I checked this out weeks ago, but it just languished on my shelf for ages.  Wasn’t what I was in the mood for, you know?  But I finally just kind of picked it up, knowing if I didn’t read it now, I never would.

*Again, Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Juneau cannot get over the sense of betrayal she feels.  After her clan was kidnapped, she learned that everything she’d been taught about the world had been a lie.  World War III had never happened.  But she’s desperate to rescue her clan.  With Miles, she’s going to go across the country if she has to to get to them.  What Juneau doesn’t know is that she has a huge target on her back…and those with power know that she’s the key to everything they want…

I still really like the premise of this book.  I love the concept of Juneau being completely out of her element in the modern world, but she’s got this fantastic skill set that comes from being one with nature.  (That makes her sound like a hippie…)  Miles and Juneau are kind of like yin and yang, which is incredibly awesome.

And I do like Miles and Juneau.  I kind of like Miles more, though, because, like me, humor is a defense mechanism for him.  So he’s constantly making these little quips that are just so funny.  But Juneau’s great too because even though she’s so young, she feels this massive responsibility toward her clan and she will do what it takes to protect them.  I kind of like that quality in a heroine.

But one thing that I thought was missing from this book was more of a relationship with the minor characters.  I mean, it’s basically The Miles-and-Juneau Show for the entire book.  Whenever a minor character appears, they are only there for a dozen pages and then gone.  (That’s a minor exaggeration, but it’s still remarkably true.)  Even characters like Whit don’t have that big of a role in this book.  I was a bit disappointed in that.

Random note, the more I read Amy Plum’s works, the more I see a few similar themes/motifs running through her novels.  Sacrifice, death, immortality, etc.  Anyway, just wanted to mention that.  The English teacher in me…

I’m about to give you a contradiction: while there is a lot of action in this book, there are also moments that are kind of boring.  Much like old-fashioned warfare, it’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait with this story.  You know when the fights are coming, so you anticipate it.  And the fights are worth it.  But cross-country traveling, as any road-tripper can tell you, is a tedious business.  There’s not a lot that happens in that part of the story.  It drags on a little there.

Still, I thought this was a nice conclusion to this duology. I’m glad they didn’t try to drag it out into a trilogy because that was just not going to work.

Three (Article 5, #3)

9780765329608First Lines: The dream was changing.  Even asleep I sensed it.

THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS!  I have only THREE more days until I am on Spring Break!  (See what I did there?  😀  I’m so punny.)  That means I will (hopefully) have a ridiculous amount of time to read and I can make a huge dent on the books I have scattered haphazardly around my room.  But until that time, I have plenty of reviews that we can do!

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

For weeks, Ember and Chase have been running from the Bureau of Reformation, AKA the Moral Militia.  On the top of the Most Wanted list, Ember and Chase have been frantically searching for the safe house, hoping to finally be able to stop running.  Only when they find the safe house, it’s a pile of ashes.  Their hopes gone, the only thing they can do is follow the footsteps that walk away from the ruins.  They are forced to find shelter in the wilderness and in ruins of other cities…until they find survivors of the fire, including someone Chase never thought he’d see again.  Joining forces, the two groups hope to find another safe location, this one possibly home to the mysterious organization known as Three.  This may be Ember’s only chance of surviving, of fighting back.

This sat on my shelf for weeks until I finally felt like reading it and honestly, I don’t remember a whole lot of books 1 and 2.  Sure, it came back to me eventually.  I had notes.  But nothing really beats that fresh memory, unfortunately.

This time, the book is incredibly doom and gloom (not that the previous books are all unicorns-farting-rainbows-and-happiness).  There was always a little bit of hope in the previous books, a little of the fresh feeling of Ember and Chase’s love.  But that’s not here this time, seeing as they are A) a solid couple and B) kind of losing all hope that they’ll ever be safe.  And the MM is really tightening their hold, making it seem incredibly possible that there aren’t going to be many survivors by the end.

The plot was pretty good.  There were definitely moments of suspense that kept the story rolling.  It was interesting to keep reading, though I will say that there were parts that seemed to drag or seemed a bit confusing.

Normally, I’d take this moment to wax poetically about the characters and their development, blah blah blah because I’m an English major and I nerd out over that, but I really didn’t feel it here.  I mean, I actually seriously lacked empathy for Ember and Chase.  Sure, I’m sympathetic to their plight.  But Ember and Chase never really changed in this book or did much to make me fall in love with them again.  It was like we were expected to already love them unconditionally and support them completely.  And that was difficult for me when nearly the entire story was Ember and Chase with competing hero complexes and the desperate desire to save each other.  Hint: It’s not growth if they’re doing that the whole novel.  So that was incredibly frustrating for me.

While it was good, it was not my favorite novel in this series.  There are others that felt far more dangerous and others that were far more character-driven.

Ruins (Partials Sequence, #3)

9780062071101First Lines: “This is a general message to the residents of Long Island.”  The first time they heard the message, nobody recognized the voice.

I have such a hard time actually finishing off series, and I don’t know why.  I’m always reluctant to do it, even if it’s a series I’m not in love with.  But with this sitting on my shelf, I figured it was better to read it now before I forgot what happened in the other books.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Actually, this one is so complex (and vague) that I’m just going to copy it from Goodreads: Kira, Samm, and Marcus fight to prevent a final war between Partials and humans in the gripping final installment in the Partials Sequence, a series that combines the thrilling action of The Hunger Games with the provocative themes of Blade Runner and The Stand.

There is no avoiding it—the war to decide the fate of both humans and Partials is at hand. Both sides hold in their possession a weapon that could destroy the other, and Kira Walker has precious little time to prevent that from happening. She has one chance to save both species and the world with them, but it will only come at great personal cost.

So here’s what I liked about this one.  I liked that there was still a ton of action.  Loads of explosions, guns, secrets, and betrayals.  There was always something happening and rarely a dull moment.

The story is told through those constantly changing narrators again, shifting from everyone like Kira, Samm, Marcus, and Haru to Tovar and even a Partial we’ve never met before.  With everyone spread out across Long Island and beyond, this was basically the only way to get the whole story told.  (Though I will admit that certain chapters, like the ones told by that new Partial, were boring to me.)

But Kira really started to get on my nerves this time around.  Sure, in the other books she has something of a hero complex.  If someone’s got to do something dangerous, she’s going to do it to protect her friends and family.  I get it.  But by the time we get to the end of this book, she’s on a full-on martyr mission.  She is basically throwing herself in front of bullets just to say she’s protecting people.  To me, she’s lost her heroic edge when she starts doing this.  This comes off as desperate and even selfish because she absolutely will not allow anyone else to do the same thing she’s trying to do.  I still admire her strength and cleverness, but this hero complex just went too far.

And the ending was totally anti-climactic.  You know how usually when you get to the end of a book, you’re on the edge of your seat just waiting for the final twist?  I had about 0 pages of the book one night when I went to bed and absolutely no idea how the book would wrap up.  I really think it brings something to the book when you have an idea what’s going to happen in the final showdown.  Like Harry against Voldemort, we had been anticipating that for the entire book, if not the books prior to it.  We knew it was coming.  But to not even know who the villain would be to fight off in this finale?  It was weird and totally killed any suspense the ending would have had.

I really wish I had better things to say about this book, but it just wasn’t the same.  Even Samm, who I adore, felt different this time around.  He actually seemed kind of rude at times.  The only character who really stayed the same was Marcus, whose dry humor and amazing comic timing helped to keep the story light.

While it was good, I was expecting so much more from a series finale.

Fragments (Partials Sequence, #2)

13170596First Lines: “Raise a glass,” said Hector, “to the best officer in New America.”

You know, it’s pretty rare for me to start a series once all the books are already out, so I’m actually kind of enjoying reading this series while I still remember what’s going on.  It’s an interesting experience, but one that’s definitely helpful for this convoluted series.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*  …I just misspelled “Potential” so it said “Poet”…

The fate of the human race rests on Kira’s shoulders.  She knows what cures RM, but no one can replicate it.  Determined to find more answers about RM, Kira sets off into the ruins of America.  It will not be any easy journey, but with the help of a few friends, can she find the answers she’s looking for?  Is she going to like those answers when she finds them?

Like I mentioned above, there’s a ton of complicated things that happen in this plot.  The story jumps between Kira, Marcus, and a slew of other characters, so it’s not just that you’re keeping track of what Kira finds–you also have what’s happening back in East Meadow.  Admittedly, I felt like the story was so much slower when anyone but Kira was narrating.  I got a bit bored sometimes when Marcus was telling it because it always seemed to cut into the middle of something major with Kira.

The characters are pretty awesome.  I definitely like Kira and her determination to do what she has to do for answers.  But the true star of this book is Samm.  I loved watching him struggle to understand human nature.  It’s just kind  of funny how foreign that is to him, and Kira always noticed when he was trying to imitate her.  It was funny.

I don’t always comment on this, but the setting was kind of stellar.  I mean, there are tons of movies and books that look at apocalyptic America.  I don’t know how many zombie movies I’ve seen with deserted cities, abandoned cars, and ransacked stores.  But this is the only one where it’s really seemed like the cities are falling apart and nature (and human inventions gone bad) is devastating the landscape.  Granted, this takes place 11 years after the “end of the world” while most of those movies are a few months after.  But the setting was unsettlingly real.

The plot is really intricate too.  I mean, there are so many little clues, so many little things that show up again later.  I caught some of them ahead of time, but it’s just always fun to know that there is so much going on in the plot.

The only complaint that I really have with this is that there are some characters who seemed to virtually disappear from the story.  I mean, they’re big enough characters that I know they’ll come back in the next book, but they were just gone after the first half of this book.  And I didn’t understand why.

Overall, this is really a thought-provoking read with a great cast of characters and scenes of delightful darkness.

Partials (Partial Sequence, #1)

partials-hc-c2First Lines: Newborn #485GA18M died on June 30, 2076, at 6:07 in the morning.  She was three days old.  The average lifespan of a human child, in the time since the Break, was fifty-six hours.

It’s like throw-back dystopian week over here.  This is a book that I truly had no intention of reading, except for the fact that one of my best friends from college is constantly telling me I needed to read this.  We tend to enjoy the same kind of books, except I lean more toward romances and she favors sci-fi, and neither one of us really likes to jump that divide.  But I finally picked it up going, “If I read this, I can finally get Heather off my back about it.”

Because the plot is a bit complicated, I’m going to copy the summary from Goodreads: Humanity is all but extinguished after a war with Partials—engineered organic beings identical to humans—has decimated the population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island. But sixteen-year-old Kira is determined to find a solution. As she tries desperately to save what is left of her race, she discovers that that the survival of both humans and Partials rests in her attempts to answer questions about the war’s origin that she never knew to ask.

Playing on our curiosity of and fascination with the complete collapse of civilization, Partials is, at its heart, a story of survival, one that explores the individual narratives and complex relationships of those left behind, both humans and Partials alike—and of the way in which the concept of what is right and wrong in this world is greatly dependent on one’s own point of view.

I really hate to say this, but Heather was right.  I enjoyed this book a lot.  (Isn’t that always kind of galling?  Like you hate to be wrong, but you’re also happy about it??)

Kira definitely steals the spotlight in this book.  She’s tough and gutsy, always pushing to do what’s right.  She realizes what she needs to sacrifice in order to do something big like saving the human race from extinction.  Even when that path is filled with danger and possible death, she charges forward because someone has to and it might as well be her.  What I thought was interesting was that Kira isn’t necessarily the most physical, the smartest, or the most take-no-prisoners heroine, but she’s driven and determined.  That goes a long way to helping her throughout the story.  Sometimes bravery and determination get you farther than brains can.

And actually, the minor characters brought a lot to the story too.  They all felt really well-developed, which doesn’t always happen when there are a lot of characters.  I was really attached to characters like the warrior Jayden, the fierce Xochi, the charming Marcus, and the secretive Samm.  (There are also tons of minor characters with weird quirks: enter a man who shall remain nameless with his pet camel.)  They all helped make the story so much fun.

Also a good note?  There’s not a huge focus here on romance.  Surprisingly enough, Kira is not interested in finding love while she’s being shot at.  Crazy, I know.  (Please tell me you picked up on my sarcasm.)  There are some underlying character shifts that you know could lead something, but it’s not the crux of the book.  And that actually seemed to fit Kira’s personality and situation really well.

The plot really plays out well and comes together well.  …That sounds a bit strange.  But what I mean is that it was always so fast paced; there was always something going on.  Sometimes that came in political maneuvering, Kira figuring out why certain things are happening, or legit fights with explosions and weapons.  Something was always happening.  But it was always happening with a purpose, and it tied together really well at the end.

My reluctance toward this book really stemmed from the Partials.  I was afraid they were going to come across like aliens or something, humanoid in features but something truly Other, like in a 1960s B movie.  Turns out I didn’t need to worry about that.  The Partials are actually really interesting to read about.  They aren’t the alien-figures I thought they would be; they have depth.  Thank God.

Overall, this is actually a really good read.  It goes fast, it’s mysterious and funny, and it’s really hard to put down.