Posts Tagged With: series

His Dark Materials: The Amber Spyglass

by Philip Pullman

The final book in the trilogy follows Will as he tries to find Lyra, who is being kept in a permanent state of sleep by Mrs Coulter. In her dream state, Lyra communicates with her dead friend Roger, and she forms a plan to travel with Will into the afterlife to help him. Meanwhile, Mary Malone has stumbled upon an opening into a fantastical world with strange creatures who take her in as their friend and maybe saviour. Lord Asriel continues his plot to undermine the Authority, and Mrs Coulter struggles with her newfound emotional attachment to her daughter. A lot happens.

You may have noticed that I stopped reviewing books for a while. That is because of this book. Even though I am a fast reader, it took me ages to finish this book. As much as I loved it, it was almost too creative to read. I would start reading it and then get distracted and have to go create something of my own or just stare into space contemplating love or the universe or something. In the His Dark Materials series, I felt the momentum stall in the second book with the introduction of Will, who I couldn’t bring myself to care about. Everything picked up in this book, though, and I became really invested in his character and his relationship with Lyra. I loved all of the characters, even if I felt nothing for them in the previous books. I can’t say enough about how wonderful the writing is. The descriptions of the action, the different worlds, and the different peoples are so vivid I felt like I was watching this book instead of reading it. This series is definitely going on my re-read shelf, even though I think it will take me forever to get through it all again.

Obviously recommended to people who have already read the first two books. To anyone who may have given up over the course of the series like I did, I urge you to read on because it’s definitely worth it.

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever

by Jeff Kinney

This installment of Wimpy Kid features a great many things, including but not limited to Christmas stress, school property vandalism, e-pets, a creepy lost doll, and, as always, a few cockamamie schemes of Greg’s to make money with minimal effort.

Of all the Wimpy Kid books, this one is the least cohesive. Yes, the other books go on a number of humourous tangents, but this one is pretty much all tangent, to the point where the plot as described on the back of the book doesn’t actually happen until the last twenty pages. There are some really funny parts and it is an enjoyable read, but it gets off to a rough start mostly because Greg seems so much younger than a middle school student. He believes in Santa, and it’s not even framed as a funny thing he hasn’t outgrown. Plus, his school–supposedly a middle school–has playground equipment. Both of these details distracted me and had me wondering if middle school starts in grade three in some states. It felt like these parts were targeted at the 7-year-olds reading the books, which can only detract from how cool these books are to their original audience of early middle schoolers. This audience shift, along with the general lack of plot makes me worry that the series is fading.

Still recommended to fans of the series, and it’s probably the most accessible of all of the books for a much younger audience. I wouldn’t recommend it as the one you give to another adult when you’re trying to convince them how funny the series is.

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The Good Neighbors: Kith

by Holly Black & Ted Naifeh

Book two in the Good Neighbors series starts somewhat awkwardly, with a scene of Dale and Justin’s band playing a show, and a faery offering Lucy a love potion. Rue is single-tearing as she narrates a mini-summary of the last book’s events. A couple we don’t know has a dramatic outburst and the girl runs into the haunted forest, setting in motion one of the threads of this book’s plot. We see Dale’s homelife and how he is coping with learning about Rue’s heritage. After this, the story really starts. Aubrey wants Rue to join him, believing and fearing Tam’s prediction that only she can stop him. Rue’s mother sends a shadow to lure Rue to the faery hideout, where she talks more with her mother and with Tam. She learns more about her grandfather’s plan for the city, but is unsure about how she can stop it, or if she even wants to.

This book definitely suffers from middle book syndrome. It starts disconnected from the first volume, and just fits a bunch of insignificant plot threads into the space of time before book one and book three. Panels were devoted to developing Lucy and Justin’s romance, just to pointlessly tie them up in the overly wrought theme of romantic betrayal in this volume. While I felt like Dale’s behavior was realistic, I didn’t really care about what it meant for his relationship with Rue. I wasn’t sure why the nymph ladies even wanted to Riley-Finn him anyway. It all seemed really pointless. Rue seemed so emotionally disconnected from everyone around her, and not in a character development sort of way. I no longer felt what she felt, so it was hard to care about any of the characters. The illustrations are consistent with the first book, but a lot of wideshot frames have less detail in them–particularly in the faces–making it hard to read characters’ emotions when some big events happen.

Still a recommended book for those who have read the first one and wish to continue, but I may change my mind about recommending the series if the third one is as unfocused and emotionally indifferent as this one.

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The Good Neighbors: Kin

by Holly Black & Ted Naifeh

Rue doesn’t worry about anything. That is, she never used to. But now that her mom has disappeared and her dad has been charged with murdering one of his students, she’s starting to look critically at the world around her. Why does she see things no one else can? What’s with all the vines that seem to be encasing all the buildings in her city? Was her mom a crazy person or was she something else entirely? And, most importantly, what does all of this have to do with Rue? A murder mystery, complete with faeries.

As with all graphic novels, the illustrations are the most important part of the book. If the drawings don’t match the story, I usually put the book down after the first page. Naifeh’s art was excellent for this book. They make it easy to tell who is who, what is happening, and what everyone is feeling. The backgrounds are detailed enough to provide a clear setting, but not so detailed that they became distracting. Naifeh’s style fits the story really well, enhancing its dark atmosphere and making the world and characters more full and vivid than they would have been if this was just a novel. Also, there are quite a few characters of colour, which is something I wish I didn’t have to applaud, but very few graphic novels include such a realistically diverse cast of characters. So, bravo to Naifeh for doing it right.

The story is compelling enough, if not entirely original. I don’t really care about Rue very much but I am curious about where the story is going. The side characters are developed to the same level as Rue and have problems of their own, which opens up a lot of options for side stories that may become more central in the next two books. The writing is opaque enough to stir curiosity, but not so unclear as to confuse readers or (in my case) cause irritability. Overall, I like the dark urban supernatural mystery Black & Naifeh create together, and I’d read on.

Recommended for fans of Holly Black, faery stories, urban fantasy, and stories with angsty teens finding out they have magical lineage. A pretty dark read with none of the love-at-first-sight supernatural romance fluff found in so many other faery stories. If romance blossoms in later books, it will be of the gritty variety.

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Chaos Walking: Monsters of Men

by Patrick Ness

In the final book of the Chaos Walking trilogy, a third narrator adds to the story. 1017 has compelled a Spackle army to attack New Prentisstown, and we get to see some of the events unfold from his perspective. Todd has released the Mayor in the hope that he will save humanity from the Spackle attack. He believes he can keep the Mayor in line with his newfound Noise talents. In return, the Mayor helps him make a few improvements on himself. Viola and Mistress Coyle both set up camp with the newly landed scout ship, but the people from the ship are unsure whether or not they should become involved in either of the wars they’ve stepped into. 1017 waits impatiently for the Spackle (or, the Land, as they call themselves) to help him enact vengeance on the Clearing (humans). He himself wants to kill the Knife (Todd), whom he despises not for his evil acts but for his wishy-washy attitude about committing atrocities he knows are wrong. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking as Viola’s home ship prepares to land on New World in a matter of months. Every faction on New World has their own hopes about what kind of situation will greet the new settlers upon their arrival.

Again, a great depiction of egomaniacal politicians, this time with the complicated process of war and peace with an external enemy thrown in the mix. It was very frustrating to see Todd and the rest of New Prentisstown start to buy into the Mayor’s rhetoric yet again, but it wasn’t unrealistic. It felt like watching a politician known for his horrible past still win over the popular vote. I loved this series for capturing the short term memory of the general public. I was disappointed with some of the reveals at the end, which made the Mayor out to be more of a lone crazy evil guy, absolving everyone who was complicit with his crimes. It diminished what I thought was the whole meaning of the series, so it’s a pretty sizeable disappointment. Still, not everything was over-explained at the end, leaving readers to make their own conclusions about some of the events in New World’s history.

I think this book gives readers a lot to talk about in terms of politics, morality, etc. Questions about freedom fighting vs terrorism are still huge in this volume, although I felt like the main characters respond unfairly to Mistress Coyle throughout. I’m not sure if it was Ness’s intention to discredit her with some of her actions, but I still think she is the most reasonable character and I wish she had been given more attention or a better storyline. I would definitely read a prequel starring her. Overall, it was not everything I wanted it to be on the morals front–for a series that deals so much with people trying to do what’s right and feeling regret over their mistakes, the main character never takes any steps to make reparations for his actions.

On the action front, however, it was rockin’. So much happens! Characters are killed off or maimed, and not for meaningful literary or emotional purposes. The stupid love triangle set up in the second book comes to what I can only hope is a temporary conclusion. Not overly romantic for us romance-averse readers, and in my mind a ship full of new settlers will increase everyone’s options because nobody ends up with the person they liked when they were 14.

Despite the shortcomings of this volume, I would still recommend the whole series to teens and adults who are interested in dystopian settings, planetary colonization, gender wars, and books with complex conflicts. Must read the first and second books before this one.

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Chaos Walking: The Ask and the Answer

by Patrick Ness

Book two in the Chaos Walking series continues where The Knife of Never Letting Go left off. Todd and Viola have made it to Haven only to find it completely empty save for Mayor Prentiss, who has taken over the town and become president. Viola and Todd are separated and both need to play by the Mayor’s rules in order to see each other again. Instead of being narrated completely by Todd as in the first book, this volume is narrated in turns by Viola and Todd. They are separated for most of the book, only able to contact each other a handful of times. As their time apart lengthens, they begin to wonder if they are on the same side anymore. Todd spends so much energy just getting by under the Mayor’s orders that he becomes complicit in his crimes. Viola finds herself working with a group of mostly female dissidents within Haven called the Answer, run by a morally questionable leader. How far will they both stray from their moral core to be together, and what will happen to New World when the war comes to a head?

Usually sequels lose momentum in the second book, but Patrick Ness keeps the story going at an even faster pace than the first book. The setting, the challenges, and even the characters we got to know in the first book have all changed. More questions about morality come up in this book, and I think it’s a really accurate depiction of how dictatorships start out. People just want to get by, and they compromise their morals to do it. Those who challenge malevolent rulers lose sympathy from regular citizens by making it harder to just get by. While I thought a lot of the tactics the Mayor and the Answer used were true to life, I had a hard time believing Todd’s character development in this book. I liked it as a plot point, but I think it would have taken a bit more to make him go as far as he did. I also thought that some of the crimes he ends up committing would drive more of a wedge between him and Viola, but maybe there will be more consequences in the next book. I do like that they are loyal to each other, and I really hope that they do not end up getting romantic in the next chapter of the story. Despite the somewhat unbelievable jumps in moral boundaries, I loved this book hard. I think it’s really important to show how human rights can be chipped away so easily in a fear-based culture, especially considering the current political war against women’s rights in the western world. That being said, this book isn’t didactic at all and leaves it up to the reader to draw comparisons between their own society and New World.

This book should be read after The Knife of Never Letting Go. See my review here.

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Chaos Walking: The Knife of Never Letting Go

by Patrick Ness

Todd is about to become a man. He will be the last of the citizens of Prentisstown to cross over into adulthood, since he was the last to be born before all the women died. In the war before he was born, the native Spackle of New World attacked the settlers with a germ that killed all the women and made everyone’s thoughts heard and seen out loud. Even the animals talk, though Todd’s unwanted dog Manchee usually only has poo on his mind. Todd hates all the Noise men and animals make, but a quiet spot he senses in the swamp one day disturbs him even more. When he tells his guardians Ben and Cillian about the quiet spot, they start to panic and tell Todd that he has to leave Prentisstown. In fact, they have been planning for this day his whole life and already have a bag packed for him. Bewildered, Todd escapes with Manchee back into the swamp as Mayor Prentiss’s police force storms his house looking for him. Todd is unsure of what he’s supposed to do when he finds the quiet spot again, a confusion that is only made worse when he tracks it down and discovers that it is a girl. With the whole town on their tracks, Todd, Manchee, and this mysterious girl with no Noise must trek into the unknown world beyond Prentisstown.

First, I have to say that I loved Manchee from the moment he said “poo.” Second, I loved almost everything else about this book. The world is described well enough to start, and its backstory is continuously revealed in a natural way. The characters are all individuals–even the ones you only meet once–and their relationships are realistic. The dialogue is natural–even the thought dialogue, which the first person narration is cleverly a part of. I get frustrated at reveals that should come earlier, like Todd not reading the note or the journal Ben packed for him, but this one was a little bit understandable and there are at least consequences (outside of reader frustration) for Todd waiting so long to get Viola to read them. I also get irritated when characters who are being hunted won’t kill to protect themselves, but this book dealt with the brutal reality of killing someone really well, and has some good morality twists. If Patrick Ness isn’t a fan of Joss Whedon’s work I would be very surprised. He absolutely refuses to give his readers more than a fleeting moment of triumph before plunging his characters into an even more desperate situation. Plus, Aaron the preacher is basically Caleb from season seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, indestructibility and all. I loved the ending of this book. Definitely a cliff-hanger, but one I actually respect. All I really love in this world is a story that promises me happiness then yanks it away in the cruelest manner possible. Can’t wait to read the rest of this series!

Definitely dark stuff. Recommended for older teens and adults who like dystopian settings and/or the work of Joss Whedon.

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CHERUB: The Recruit

by Robert Muchamore

James Choke is an ordinary 11-year-old with a few problems. His mum is an obese swindler who sells stolen electronics to the local soccer moms, and the other kids won’t stop hassling James about how fat his mum is. When James violently snaps at one of his schoolmates, causing her to get stitches, he lands himself in court. But his court visit isn’t until after he comes home one day and finds his mum dead in her favourite chair.

James gets put into a children’s home, and his sister Lauren has to live with her no-good dad. He falls into a rough crowd, and ends up attempting a liquor store robbery hours after his court visit. Shortly thereafter, he is recruited by CHERUB, an organization of child spies that finds crafty orphans like James and offers them an alternative to a life of crime. The training is hard, but James knows that if he quits, his life will continue to spiral out of control until he lands himself in jail.

This series is so much better than Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series. James is a more realistic character than Alex, and the other characters and all the plot twists are a little more grounded in reality. I’ve read nearly all the books in the series, and it seems to be far less problematic than other spy books I’ve tried. Where Alex Rider books come across as xenophobic and at times outright racist (Horowitz uses the term “Chinaman” in Snakehead), the CHERUB series actually includes gay people, women, and people of colour who contribute to the plot and are on the good guys’ side. I like that James isn’t perfect, and he isn’t just born with secret spy skills like Alex Rider is. I think the teens in this series are more realistic, and while the series includes progressive values the teens do not necessarily reflect them like characters in an after school special would. James gets pretty sleazy with the ladies and exhibits problematic behavior, but as in real life there are consequences. The worst clichĂ© I see in CHERUB is the “environmental terrorists” trope that crops up a lot, but at least the main characters are sympathetic to environmental concerns, with one character even making a commitment to vegetarianism after a run-in with a PETA-like terrorist group.

These books are action-packed, gritty, and easy to read. Even though the main character is 11 when it starts, it is definitely more of a teen read because of the subject matter. They are perfect for older readers who just want something fast and fun and not too challenging, but at a teen level of maturity. Girls read these too and I don’t like gender stereotyping, but this is the ideal series for teen boys who aren’t usually into reading.

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