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Divergent

Review of Divergent by Veronica Roth

From Veronica Roth‘s Website:
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, 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 to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating 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 a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her.

General Impressions:
I’ve been hearing about Divergent for awhile now and was on the super long waiting list at my library waiting for a copy for a good long time, so needless to say I was ready to dive in when I finally got my hands on the book. Dive in is a really good description. You get sucked in pretty early in the book, but once the Choosing Ceremony happens, the rest of the book is like a high paced action movie that you can’t look away from.

Tris is an awesome character. While there are times she can seem somewhat whiney, the reasoning behind it makes sense. She is just completely bad-ass. Tris is also imperfect, and those imperfections make her who she is and extremely relatable. If I was still in high-school, she would be a person I would want to be friends with.

There is a romantic aspect to this book, but it didn’t bother me at all. First, Four, the romantic interest in the book, is awesome. Second, it wasn’t a fall in love at first sight, or even third sight. The romance in this book is real romance, a lot of unknowns and confusion. It also is very sweet and not a giant whirlwind that you normally find in most YA nowadays. The romance thread between Tris and Four reminded me a lot of the romance between Rose and Dimitri in the first half of the Vampire Academy series.

Final Takeaway:
Do yourself a favor and read this book. The first thing I did when I finished was to check my library for a copy of Insurgent (the second book in the series), which they unfortunately aren’t carrying. I broke down and bought a copy just cause I couldn’t wait.

This story stays with you, the characters stay with you, and the world stays with you. It is definitely shaping up to be an amazing series.

Review of A Discovery Of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches

From Deborah Harkness‘ website:
When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy. She banishes the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer.

For witches are not the only otherworldly creatures living alongside humans. There are also creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires who become interested in the witch’s discovery. They believe that the manuscript contains important clues about the past and the future, and want to know how Diana Bishop has been able to get her hands on the elusive volume.

Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans—and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.

General Impressions:
This book revolves a lot around alchemy, history and science. That was enough for me to enjoy it. Deborah Harkness really did her research while writing this book and it shows in how she makes everything come to life with her descriptions. Even parts that I felt dragged or had too much romance for my taste, the descriptions of images or historical events were so vivid that it kept me reading.

Diana is a girl after my own heart. As much as she drives me crazy, I absolutely love her. The biggest thing that makes me love her is that she has realistic reactions. When she finds out that someone had been stalking her and broke into her apartment, she is horrified. She struggles to come to grips with the horrible things that the man she loves did, though his past indiscretions are not enough to push her away. I also like that she doesn’t really let anyone boss her around. She will pass a leadership role on to someone else, but makes her opinions known if she disagrees.

There were a few parts where the romance got too much for my enjoyment, but it followed a more natural romantic structure which was refreshing. Diana does not fall head over heels in love with Matthew on first sight, it is gradual, or as gradual as you can get in novel. Once they do finally realize that they are in love with each other, there are parts where it can get annoying, but that’s just me.

Final Takeaway:
As much as I complain about the romance, I actually really did enjoy this book. While there were some parts that became major page turners, it really was more of one of those books you pick up to relax and enjoy at a leisurely pace.

A Discovery of Witches reminded me a lot of Twilight. While I try to avoid Twilight comparisons, this really read like what I would think a more adult version of Twilight. Even if you don’t like Twilight I suggest it, because it lacks and/or makes up for a lot of what many people complained about Twilight. And no, the vampires don’t sparkle.

Side note: Please check out Deborah Harkness’ website when you are done reading. She has a series of pages for her more curious readers, including a reading list if you get interested in something in the book and playlists you can subscribe to on Spotify. I love it when authors go that extra mile for their readers, which Harkness certainly has.

Review of The Girl In The Steel Corset by Katy Cross

From Kady Cross’s Website:
In 1897 England, sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne has no one…except the “thing” inside her.

When a young lord tries to take advantage of Finley, she fights back. And wins. But no normal Victorian girl has a darker side that makes her capable of knocking out a full-grown man with one punch….

Only Griffin King sees the magical darkness inside her that says she’s special, says she’s one of them. The orphaned duke takes her in from the gaslit streets against the wishes of his band of misfits: Emily, who has her own special abilities and an unrequited love for Sam, who is part robot; and Jasper, an American cowboy with a shadowy secret.

Griffin’s investigating a criminal called The Machinist, the mastermind behind several recent crimes by automatons. Finley thinks she can help—and finally be a part of something, finally fit in.

But The Machinist wants to tear Griff’s little company of strays apart, and it isn’t long before trust is tested on all sides. At least Finley knows whose side she’s on—even if it seems no one believes her.

General Impressions:
First off, my version from the library contained the short story The Strange Case of Finley Jayne.  I highly suggest reading this first, as it really gets you into the head of Finley and gets you used to the social classes that play a part in The Girl In The Steel Corset. Also, it gets you familiar with the steampunk world created by Kady Cross. While there are some inconsistencies between the two, it is easily overlooked especially with how much it does set up Finley for the reader.

The story itself definitely grabbed me early on and refused to let go. While I was curious as to what was going on with the overarching plot, honestly it was the characters that pushed me further into the book. The whole motley group living under Griffin’s house plus Jack Dandy lead to one of the most colorful and intriguing cast of characters in a book. While some of them you want to slap upside the head repeatedly, there really wasn’t a character in the entire story that dragged for me.

My only complaint was that I figured out the mystery roughly halfway through the book, though Cross made up for it during the climatic battle. Even knowing who was behind everything didn’t kill the story for me because the real story is about the characters.

Final Takeaway:
If you haven’t read steampunk before, or have been holding off on reading steampunk for one reason or another, this is a good introduction into the genre. Cross does an amazing job of incorporating elements of steampunk into Victorian London without it being jarring. Within a few chapters, almost everything comes across as completely normal and in place.

I suggest this book to anyone who is a fan of steampunk, or looking to read some steampunk for the first time. Also, anyone who is into genetic mutations and such. I really loved this book. Reading in the Acknowledgements Katie Cross mentioned how her editor referred to this book in the beginning stages as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets X-Men. While I would never have come up with that myself, it’s a fitting comparison.

Ready Player One

Review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

From Ernest Cline‘s website: 
At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, READY PLAYER ONE is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.

A quest for the ultimate prize.

Are you ready?

Disclosure:
In real life, my day job so to speak, I am a game designer. I spend my days, and sometimes my nights, designing video games. I have done this for years. I feel the need to disclose this because the way games are designed and developed in this book are not how games are made anymore. There are several references in the book to the development of the OASIS, and every single one of them was jarring to me, to the point of taking away from what was going on in the story. If you don’t know a lot about game development past the early 90s this shouldn’t have any effect, but if you are familiar with the development process be forewarned.

General Impressions:
This book has been talked about for awhile and has been on my TBR list since the first time I heard about it. So needless to say when my spot on the library’s wait list came up I promptly dove into the book. It didn’t take long to get into the story.

This book is Ernest Cline’s first book and there are some tells and pitfalls that show it is a first novel. I have seen some complaints in other reviews about writing style and info dumps. It didn’t really bother me. Sometimes the info dumps were a bit jarring, but not enough to pull you out of the book, and they really did add a level to world that would not have been there otherwise. Also, the writing style fit with the main character and the tangents that happen in the story fit with the type of thought process of people I know like Wade.

Wade, the main character, is a very interesting and resourceful character. He was easily to relate to for me. The biggest thing I liked about Wade is that he kept me guessing. There were times where he would do something I never would have expected, but made sense when looking back. This is what I absolutely love while reading a book. Also, Wade’s love of all things 80s was simply a joy to read, even with the accompanying ear worms. Cline inserts 80s references as little nods to those who grew up during that era. None of the references are really key to the plot, but are there to add another layer to the world.

Final Takeaway:
I highly suggest this, especially if you are a fan of video games and the 80s. Normally when I get jarred out of a book, as described in the rant above, I will put the book down and not pick it back up. It says a lot about this book that not only did I keep reading it, but would stay up late and get up early to read it. I am very interested to see where Cline’s career goes from here. He has a way with stories, and I would like to watch his craft grow and the new worlds he weaves in future novels.

The Night Circus

Review of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

From the Erin Morgenstern‘s website:
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

General Impressions:
I had been looking forward to The Night Circus for awhile now. I was actually disappointed that I didn’t get sucked into the story right away. It took quite a long time before I did start getting into the story. I think it had a lot to do with the introduction of Bailey, Poppet and Widget.

Once the story delves into the actual Night Circus, I really started to enjoy myself. Like the patrons of the Night Circus, I always wanted to see more. I loved the actual world inside the tents, which are filled with imagination and leave the reader feeling as though they are really inside the tent. I didn’t care as much about the main characters, though I grew to appreciate them. I loved the secondary characters though. There was always more to them than what was on the surface. Again, Bailey, Poppet and Widget were my favorite characters, and for me, their storyline was what kept the book going for me.

I loved the interludes as well. They reminded me a lot of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s carnival series. I was extremely happy when I saw their name in the acknowledgments. The interludes really show off the circus to me and I can’t imagine not having that in the book.

Final Takeaway:
Even though it took me almost the first hundred pages to get into the story, I actually really enjoyed it. The writing style takes a bit of getting used to, with it switching time periods, but it is worth it. The choice to write in this style makes perfect sense in the end. The last chapter of the book, not including interludes, includes possibly one of my favorite conversations between two characters in all of fiction. I recommend this for any fans of the mystical and magical, circuses and carnivals, or for anyone who has just felt like they don’t belong.

I am very interested to see what Erin Morgenstern has in store for the future. Her imagination and world building shine through this book, and I foresee great things from her in the future.

Ashfall

From Mike Mullin‘s website: 
Many visitors to Yellowstone National Park don’t realize that the boiling hot springs and spraying geysers are caused by an underlying supervolcano. It has erupted three times in the last 2.1 million years, and it will erupt again, changing the earth forever.

Fifteen-year-old Alex is home alone when Yellowstone erupts. His town collapses into a nightmare of darkness, ash, and violence, forcing him to flee. He begins a harrowing trek in search of his parents and sister, who were visiting relatives 140 miles away.

Along the way, Alex struggles through a landscape transformed by more than a foot of ash. The disaster brings out the best and worst in people desperate for food, clean water, and shelter. When an escaped convict injures Alex, he searches for a sheltered place where he can wait—to heal or to die. Instead, he finds Darla. Together, they fight to achieve a nearly impossible goal: surviving the supervolcano.

General Impression:
This book is raw, gritty and real. I loved that the main character was a boy. I don’t think there are enough YA books out there that are from a male point of view. I know this is changing and more are coming out, but it still was a refreshing change. This book is written in such a real way that it is easy to see this being the future that is in store for us. I think my only complaint about the book is that it was so raw, I couldn’t read it in one sitting. I had to take a break every five or six chapters.

So what to say about Alex? Alex is such a real character there was no problem connecting with him as soon as the book started. I have a soft spot in my heart for geeks and anyone who can go on and on about grinding in WoW is immediately a kindred spirit. The other thing I like him is that his reactions to events are very similar to the reactions that I would probably have in the same situations. Even though there were several times I would fight to yell out not to do something, I have to admit that in his place, I would probably do the same thing.

The book is graphic in several places. Unlike some other books, Mike Mullin uses the graphic scenes as important parts of the story. Nothing is really gratuitous, though in some cases it could have been glanced over, it wouldn’t have had as much of an impact on reader as it did on the characters. I do love that there isn’t violence for violence sake, but that every instance of violence has some motivation behind it.

Final Takeaway:
October 8th is too far away! I absolutely loved this book, and highly recommend this to anyone. Mullin writes in a way that is reminiscent of classic sci-fi and post-apocalyptic novels from the 50s and 60s but with a modern twist. While Ashfall stands very well as a stand alone, I have to admit I’m anxiously awaiting the October 8th release of Ashen Winter.

One note to take away is that if you suffer from any triggers, you might want to be careful with this book. I think the book is good enough to try and still read it, or get a friend to read it and forewarn you about any potential trigger scenes before you get to them.

City of Bones

From the back of the book
When 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 odd markings. This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons-and keeping the odd werewolves and vampires in line. It’s also her first meeting with gorgeous, golden-haired Jace. 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 an ordinary mundane like Clary? And how did she suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know…

General Impressions
First and foremost, City of Bones (and possibly the entire series, but I haven’t read the others yet) should be a study in world building. Cassandra Clare creates a world so rich and different that it is easy to forget that the main characters are running around New York City. While I’ve never been to NYC, I got the feeling that well-known landmarks are used merely for a point of reference and to show distance traveled. While the story may be set in NYC, it takes place in Clare’s world. Clare also takes advantage of well established ideas about certain fantasy species and turns them on their head, while keeping in canon with others.

The other major thing that stood out to me was that I wasn’t battered over the head with a love story. There is a love story there, but it isn’t over done and shoved in my face, like some other YA novels do. This is what I loved about the Vampire Academy series and I think it will be a key role in my future enjoyment of this series. Clare gives you time to learn about the characters and enjoy them as themselves before over complicating their lives with serious romance. She also avoids the trap that many authors fall into where a character is nothing without their other half. All the characters in City of Bones stand on their own. Romance, while it does play a role in the story, supports the growth of the characters instead of consuming them.

As for the story itself, it took me a bit to figure out what was going on, since I didn’t even read the back of the book before I started reading. That didn’t stop me from getting sucked in during the first chapter. It ramps up fast though. There were several times where I had the “one more chapter and I won’t be too tired at work tomorrow” moments. The story and characters also stick with you outside of the book.  There would be several times where I was doing something in my everyday life and would be thinking about what was happening in the book.

Final Takeaway
Highly suggest this book if you are a fan of Urban Fantasy, or even thinking about checking out UF. I have been hearing about these books for awhile and they have been on my to be read list for a couple of years now. The only thing I can say is that I am kicking myself for not reading these sooner. I picked up the next two books in the series as part of my birthday present to myself.

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