Insurgent ~ Veronica Roth

  • Title: Insurgent
  • Author: Veronica Roth
  • Series: Divergent #2
  • Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopian, YA
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewer: Val
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  One choice can transform you, or destroy you.

Every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves, and herself, while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.


Review:   Insurgent, the second book of the Divergent series, picks right up where Divergent left off. The factions are at war, following the massacre of much of the Abnegation faction at the hands of the hypnotized Dauntless warriors. Having stopped the attack, Tris and Four find themselves outlaws on the run.

This book was just as much of a rush to read as the first, maybe even more so. There is plenty of action, as Tris and Four face danger trying to uncover the truth about what is going on. Roth takes the political undertones even deeper, creating a delicious tension throughout the story. It is a constant struggle to sift truth from lies, or more importantly, whose truth is more compelling.

As the plot thickens, the character also become more complex. It is no longer as simple as good versus bad. Roth reveals the good intentions behind some of the terrible actions of her “bad guys”, and that good misguided “good” characters have faltered onto dark paths. I am so tempted to mention some specifics here, but I think I will let you discover that for yourself.

Tris, herself, is very conflicted throughout the story. Her actions in the previous book have her questioning what kind of person she really is and erodes some of her recently won confidence. This internal struggle results in conflict and tension between Tris and Four. There is also continued tension among Tris and her new Dauntless friends.

I will say one thing for Roth, she didn’t really hold anything back. She is telling a dark and gritty tale and she’s not afraid for bad things to happen to pack the necessary emotional punch. Roth is by no means a George R.R. Martin (who seems to kill off characters just so the reader won’t get attached), but she does not shy away from the death of a likeable character.

While the first book focused primarily on the Abnegation and Dauntless factions, Insurgent gives a closer look at Amity and Candor. Herein lies the brilliance behind Roth’s unfolding saga. Each faction has its specific social mores, which are both a strength and a weakness when isolated without divergent thinking (um, yeah, guess that explains the series theme in a nutshell). Another theme throughout this book is how far people will go to avoid accepting a harsh reality out of fear, often failing to act and thus making them fall victim to that fear.

The cover for Insurgent is equally eye-catching as the Divergent cover. This time, it features the faction symbol for Amity with the Chicago skyline at the bottom. The color scheme and layout are complimentary to the Divergent cover, clearly identifying the series.

There is one bad thing about this book that I do not like so much . . . that I will have to wait until October for the third and final book of the series!

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City of Ashes ~ Cassandra Clare

  • Title: City of Ashes
  • Author: Cassandra Clare
  • Series: The Mortal Instruments #2
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
  • Format: Audiobook
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 2 out of 5

Description:  Clary Fray just wishes that her life would go back to normal. But what’s normal when you’re a demon-slaying Shadowhunter, your mother is in a magically induced coma, and you can suddenly see Downworlders like werewolves, vampires, and faeries? If Clary left the world of the Shadowhunters behind, it would mean more time with her best friend, Simon, who’s becoming more than a friend. But the Shadowhunting world isn’t ready to let her go — especially her handsome, infuriating, newfound brother, Jace. And Clary’s only chance to help her mother is to track down rogue Shadowhunter Valentine, who is probably insane, certainly evil — and also her father.

To complicate matters, someone in New York City is murdering Downworlder children. Is Valentine behind the killings — and if he is, what is he trying to do? When the second of the Mortal Instruments, the Soul-Sword, is stolen, the terrifying Inquisitor arrives to investigate and zooms right in on Jace. How can Clary stop Valentine if Jace is willing to betray everything he believes in to help their father?

In this breathtaking sequel to City of Bones, Cassandra Clare lures her readers back into the dark grip of New York City’s Downworld, where love is never safe and power becomes the deadliest temptation.

*This review may contain spoilers.*

Review:  Cassandra Clare is back. City of Ashes is the follow-up to her fun, young adult urban fantasy adventure City of Bones. This second book of the Mortal Instruments series is everything that the first book was not, and I don’t mean that in a good way. The first book was light on teen wallowing and focused on more on their adventure through a dangerous magical world.

City of Ashes, on the other hand, is a story about a group of spoiled teens in the midst of a big ole angst fest. Clary and Jace are all angsty about their Luke and Lei sibling attraction since they still think they are brother and sister. (Clearly, at some point it will be revealed that they are not actually siblings, because otherwise, eww!) Jace is also wallowing in Vader/Valentine father drama and acting bratty because nobody believes him, because dishing up disdainful attitude is always helpful in getting others to see your point of view. Simon is battling his angst driven jealously over any attention that Clary is paying to her brother, Jace. Alec is drowning in a whole vat of youthful melodrama, struggling with his sexuality, his unrequited love for Jace, and perhaps a hidden romance? Isabelle is not so much angsting as she is rebelling against nothing. Oh, and they are aware of the magical world around them and they are trying to fight evil.

Eventually, we see some opportunities for action and adventure. However, it feel like every time a conflict arises, someone breaks out into an angst-driven monologue. How many times are they going to feel swayed by Valentine’s fanatical ranting? Really? He’s right THERE! Less talky talky, more stabby stabby. When we are not interrupting this regularly scheduled not-a-fight scene, we are flash-forwarding to the end only to experience yet another heart rending near death episode. Surely Simon’s nine live are up??? Oh, the drama!

This book is guilty of SO many fiction faux pas plot devices that I may have lost count. The top five kind of looks like this:

  1. Overreaction in place of action – like going to a werewolf bar to pick a fight because you are mad at your stepmom
  2. Overuse of the monologue – battle is raging all around us, my sweet, but let me try to convince you why my evil plan is great
  3. Logic is overrated (not sure which is my favorite example) – I hate demons SO much, that I want to rid the world of half demons by allying myself with full demons OR I know you are my sister, but will you still be my girlfriend and we can keep it a secret?
  4. Smart characters make stupid decisions – The bad guy is looking for someone like ME? Why then, let me run off into the night alone and take back alleys so he can capture me!
  5. And the worst plot device used in this book is . . . Love triangles, or in this case knots – A hot werewolf girl is in love with me, but I’m in love with you. You are in love with your brother. He loves you, too, but you can’t be together, obviously. His teenage foster brother is in love with him, but dating a 300 year old wizard who may be in love him (eww). The foster sister seems to be in love with herself. Let’s not even bother with the “adults.” It boggles the mind.

I pretty much liked the characters in the first book. Well, I didn’t dislike them, at least. However, in City of Ashes I think that everyone could use a swift boot to the head. Jace spends the book sneering and throwing abuse at others, meanwhile whining that no one believes in him. Clary is trying to martyr herself for every bad thing that happens to her in between bouts of saying really nasty things to people. Simon acts like a pouty douche who seems to have lost at least 30 IQ points since that last book. I could go on. Suffice it to say that Valentine wiping them all out starts to look appealing by the end of the book.

As for the conclusion, Clare serves up an ending so ambiguous that when examined you realize that there really wasn’t closure to any of the plot threads of this book. In fact, if you remove all of the angst and over emoting, I think that this book contributes maybe a single chapter, two at the most, of relevant information that moves that series plot arc forward.

On the positive side, the cover art for City of Ashes is fantastic. In keeping with the theme of the first cover, it features the city skyline with an otherworldly teen figure rising from the behind the city. This time the figure represents Clary with an almost flaming quality to her red hair. Too bad the contents of the book do not live up to the promise of the cover.

Now, I am left with a decision. Do I give the series another chance? I DID like the first book. However, my eyes are still sore from the number of times I rolled them while reading this book. Perhaps I’ll give it some time, let my eye muscles recover, and see how I feel with a little distance. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. We shall see.

City of Bones ~ Cassandra Clare

  • Title: City of Bones
  • Author: Cassandra Clare
  • Series: The Mortal Instruments #1
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
  • Format: Hardback
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder – much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air.

It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing – not even a smear of blood – to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk.

Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…

Review:  I’ve long had my eye on City of Bones. The cover is eye catching and the plot sounds interesting. My lingering hesitance is part of my usual dilemma, will the story be more adventure or angst. With the movie release upon us, it is time to make that decision . . . to read or not read?

I am glad that I chose to read. There are certainly hints of teen angst here and there, but the story is directed mostly by adventure and world-building. Hurrah! I admit that the plot is on the predictable side, but the entertaining manner in which the story unfolds makes it almost possible to overlook.

The basic premise is one we’ve seen before, kind of an Alice through the Looking Glass kind of tale. The world-building has elements that make it unique enough to hold the readers interest. The story follows Clary, an impetuous teen whose mother goes missing just when she starts to see inexplicable things. She is seeing demons to be precise. It turns out that everywhere. Fortunately for her, she meets a band of teenage demon hunters who grudgingly agree to help her find her mom and figure out what is happening to her.

I am not sure that it makes sense that a group of teen demon hunters are the only ones around to protect the city for the duration of the book. Reader have to make a leap of faith to just accept this a move on. Because of their youthful exuberance, the teen characters are fun, if one-dimensional. Some of them have secrets, and I’m not telling! I want to tell you, truly I do, but I think it would be more fun it you discover them on your own.

My favorite character, Magnus Bane, is a minor character of importance to the story. He is extremely powerful and totally unapologetic. The ambiguity of his character allows Ms. Clare a vehicle through which she can deliver truth, in a crazy-cool kind of way. I also love Valentine as a villain. He is psychotically brilliant and totally arrogant. Oh, and in the movie he’s played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Hello, sexy calling!).

Clare relies more on intrigue rather than action to move the story forward. This is not to say that there are no good action scenes, there are. It is just the mystery is solved more Sherlock style, piecing together clues gained through investigation.

This is a good first book to the series. It was a solid introduction to the characters and the Clare’s alternate world. The resolution to the primary plot is strong enough to give closure, yet there are there are plenty of tantalizing open threads to entice the reader back for more. So, go on now, dear reader. I have another book (City of Ashes) to read.

Divergent ~ Veronica Roth

  • Title: Divergent
  • Author: Veronica Roth
  • Series: Divergent #1
  • Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopian, YA
  • Format: Audio book
  • Source: Library
  • Reviewer: Val
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is–she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are–and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.


Review:   I was really torn on whether or not to read this book, even though I had heard good reviews. On one hand, I have been avoiding anything approaching YA lately, unsure if I can handle yet another teen-angst fest. On the other hand, I really like dystopian fiction. A good recommendation from a trusting source convinced me to give it a try. I am so glad that I did.

Divergent takes place in Chicago years after some society changing disaster. In order to survive, the isolated population has divided itself into five factions, each of which is characterized by specific personality traits that make them especially suited to serve the societal roles assigned to their faction. If someone fails to conform for some reason, they become ostracized and relegated to the lowest tier of society, the factionless.

The story follows Tris, who like others her age must make the difficult decision to choose her faction, an irrevocable decision. If the wrong faction is chosen, there is no going home, the only option available at that point is to become factionless. However, Tris isn’t like everyone else. She is Divergent, having aptitude for multiple factions. She is not sure what it means exactly, other than it puts in danger, so she must conceal it.

Tris is a complex character of a young girl trying to discover who she is within a world that seems to be crumbling around her. She is bold yet unsure of herself, selfless without being self-sacrificing, and clever, if at times slow on the uptake. There were definitely times that I felt a discrepancy between how clueless Tris could be and her portrayed intelligence.

Because of her very nature, Tris is portrayed as a bit of an underdog character. Despite being an outcast, the author created some great relationships with her among her underdog friends. The author also did a great job of creating chemistry between Tris and Four, capturing that spark of young love without the usual overdose of angst.

The world-building was really good in this book. The mental images evoked by the descriptions of dystopian remains of Chicago were fairly vivid. It was painted as a harsh world with limited options, yet the author was able to include a hopeful element.

It was easy to get swept away in the scenes depicting the dauntless actions. The author did a great job of capturing the heady combination of fear and freedom that Tris felt during these scenes.

The cover of this book is very eye-catching. It features a flaming rendition of the symbol for the dauntless faction. The rest of the cover is muted, in stormy shade of blue/grey, lending itself to the dark, cold tone of the story, depicting clouds and a distant Chicago skyline.

Divergent starts this trilogy off well. It does a great job of introducing the world and the main characters without sacrificing on plot or adventure. If felt like a complete book, capable of standing on its own, yet there was enough foreshadowing to make the reader want to continue the series.

The Lords of Salem ~ Rob Zombie

  • Title: The Lords of Salem
  • Author: Rob Zombie
  • Genre: Horror
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Reviewed by: DarthVal
  • Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Description:  “The book offers a different experience from the film since it can obviously go into much more detail,” says Rob Zombie. “The book and the film really complement each other.”

From the singular mind of horror maestro Rob Zombie comes a chilling plunge into a nightmare world where evil runs in the blood…

THE LORDS OF SALEM

Heidi Hawthorne is a thirty-seven-year-old FM radio DJ and a recovering drug addict. Struggling with her newfound sobriety and creeping depression, Heidi suddenly receives an anonymous gift at the station-a mysteriously shaped wooden box branded with a strange symbol. Inside the box is a promotional record for a band that identifies themselves only as The Lords. There is no other information.

She decides to play it on the radio show as a joke, and the moment she does, horrible things begin to happen. The strange music awakens something evil in the town. Soon enough, terrifying murders begin to happen all around Heidi. Who are The Lords? What do they want?

As old bloodlines are awakened and the bodies start to pile up, only one thing seems certain: all hell is about to break loose.


Review: 
This book was dark, demented, and deeply disturbing. I would have been disappointed with anything less in a horror novel from Master of the Macabre, Rob Zombie.

There is an allure to the legend of the Salem Witch trials. Our modern day logical brains scoff at the barbarism of the past. How could they not only believe, but act upon such nonsense? And yet, we have that inner voice. You know the one that loves to tell scary stories around a camp fire. It whispers to us, “what if?”

Mr. Zombie knows and recognizes that little whisper. In fact he shamelessly exploits it in this gory little tale. He goes well beyond a mere suggestion that the Salem trials were a just condemnation of witchcraft. He depicts a scenario of barely contained depravity and evil. Flash forward to the modern day, and the legacy of evil is about to be unleashed upon the unsuspecting souls of Salem.

Zombie is not one to portray a cast of white knights battling evil. No, his characters lean toward flawed, gritty, and sometimes deserving a sharp rap upside the head. And yet, we don’t want EVIL to win. Or do we? Mwahaha. Er. Um. Moving on.

The suspense throughout this book was killer. Literally. This made for a really enjoyable read. The ending, alas, fell short of the promise of the rest of the book. I just wanted a little more. Sigh. I do, however, think it will play out well on the big screen.

While I enjoyed the book immensely, it is certainly not one for the kiddies. It is violent, bloody, and grotesque. Those of you who are faint of heart, you have been warned. For my fellow ghouls out there, see ya at the movies?

Regarding the cover: This is a decent cover. It would have been so easy to go overboard on the gore, but instead they went for simple. Simple works. The smudging and sketchy font efforts do the story justice. The washed out little creeper at the bottom adds a nice hint of horror.

The Life of Pi ~ Yann Martel

  • Title: Life of PI
  • Author: Yann Martel
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Source: Kindle
  • Reviewed by: Mark, Guest Reviewer
  • Rating: 5 out of 5

Description:  Life of Pi  is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe.

Review:  The novel ‘Life of Pi’ was only on my distant radar, until I saw the stunning scenes of this mega-3d movie made by Ang-lee. Of course, I wanted to go ‘book first, movie second’, since the other way around just doesn’t work as well, so I jumped into the novel to free myself to see the movie.

The Life of PI is the story of a young man who is a religious studies and zoology major in college. He sees truths and beauty in 3 major religions so chooses to follow them all. This spiritual world gets hammered and tested when a shipwreck leaves him lost at sea on a lifeboat along with some of the animals his father was transporting to sell to other zoos.

The novel was simply tremendous. The writing was both easily digestible and yet filled with deeper implications. Piscine’s, or “Pi’s” thought patterns were intriguing, including his initial inquisitiveness and near naivety before the shipwreck, to his brain’s struggle for survival and the delirium that follows, to his post-rescue riddling of the insurance representatives investigating the cause of the crash. (This is not a spoiler, since the reader knows right up front that Pi survives.)

This novel can be read simply for an action, intrigue, and the survival story which rivals any other, but my guess is there are tons of English professors who would love to see their students turn in papers with the following as subjects:

~Symbolism of the Hyena, the Orangutan, the Frenchman, and especially, Richard Parker The Tiger. Does the tiger represent fear, nature, the Id and savagery of man, childhood demons conquered? (‘you’re going to be a goat fed to the tiger,’ his brother had warned him as a child.)

~Compare the Tiger in Life of Pi to the volleyball ‘Wilson’ in Castaway. Okay, you may just get some laughs and nothing higher than a B+ if you write this paper.

~Compare and contrast life on land, on the boat, and on the island.

~Role of carnivores versus omnivores in the novel.

~Nature of storytelling itself.

The power of stories as providing meaning and creating larger than life myths are referred to throughout the book, and how their power fuels spiritual faith. (Pi laments the lack of more grandiose stories in Christianity). Does belief in a story make it more or less true? When you are trying to tell the truth, is it best to do so in Fiction?

Ah, to be in school again and spend hours writing such a paper into the wee hours of the night. Good for me, I can just enjoy and think as deep or shallow as I’d like.

Among many others, one thing that has stuck with me is the things Pi had to do to get by. Eating animals as part of survival is described as both barbaric and instinctual, and the degree of Pi’s desperate hunger leads to desperate measures. While reading, I made some out loud gasps at some of the ways Pi survived, causing others in the room with me to turn their heads and wonder what was on my kindle.

But upon completing the novel and still savoring its taste, I found myself noticing all the food I waste and imagining what I would eat ‘if I really had to’. Like Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle,” Life of Pi maybe aimed for the heart but accidently hit the stomach as well.

The odd thing is, many readers will discuss back and forth what was real and what wasn’t real in the novel, but I like to believe, as I think the author and Pi himself believe, that it doesn’t matter and it misses the point. Truth exists in the eye of the storyteller and the observer, and in the mind of the reader, so if you read about it, saw it in your minds eye, then it happened.

This novel fired on all cylinders, and I’m going to be waving it under the noses of readers everywhere. And just like Tom Hanks who missed Wilson, and Pi who misses his tiger, I miss reading this novel each night. At least I still have the movie.

Mark Matthews is the author of STRAY and The Jade Rabbit. He blogs at Running, Writing, and Chasing the Dragon.