Disclaimer: This review (as does the book) assumes that the reader is familiar with the 7-book Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
Happy Potter and the Cursed Child
Parts 1 and 2
By J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne
The eighth Harry Potter book – a four act play – takes place 19 years after the famous series ended. The book focuses on the tumultuous relationship between Harry, now Head of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic, and his youngest son Albus, who enters Hogwarts and is sorted into Slytherian. Brief scenes show glimpses of Albus’s first few years at school and his relationship with his father during that period, but those scenes only lead up to the real story, which takes place during Albus’s fifth year at Hogwarts.
At that time, Albus and his friend Scorpius Malfoy (son of Drayco Malfoy) attempt to rectify one of the injustices of Harry Potter’s childhood – the death of Cedric Diggory. The pair go back in time – several times – with a stolen time turner and attempt to prevent Diggory’s death. The two realize that the actions they take and the alternate realities that they create are not always for the better. But can they undo the changes they made and return life to normal? Or are they destined to live in a new world that they inadvertently created?
Review/Recommendation: (But first, another disclaimer.) I feel like I’ve been living under a rock recently. I’d seen this book on displays everywhere, and my friends had started to read it, but I had not read or heard any reviews about it. I can barely keep up with reading everything coming in via my RSS feed and rarely have the time to sit down and read a real book lately. And the tv? Well that’s tuned into Paw Patrol the vast majority of the time I’m home.
Why do you care? Well, I thought it important to let you know that I really picked up this book with no expectations (but full of high hopes since I loved the Harry Potter series) and completely unaware of what the book would be about. It didn’t occur to me at all, that the latest Harry Potter book was actually a play. So with that said, it took me a little while to get into the book. It wasn’t until I was about a third of the way through it that I got hooked on the story and really began to enjoy it.
I do have mixed feelings about the book in general. For one, I don’t feel the format did the story or the reputation of the Harry Potter books justice. It felt very… lacking in depth and detail. There were no real descriptions of the characters or the scenery, especially how Hogwarts changed in the 19 years that Harry, Ron, and Hermione were there. There were glimpses into some of the prominent characters from previous books but no sense of changes in character or relationships. A lot was left to the imagination, with just hints of what Rowling and her coauthors wanted us to think. There was sooo much more that I wanted from this book.
I also have mixed feelings on the story itself. It starts off really depressing, with the very tumultuous relationship between Harry and his son Albus. I felt horrible for Albus because of how unhappy he clearly was but struggled because I had no context for how Harry and Albus’s relationship got to that point. Once I got past the format of the book and what I wanted the book to be, I started to enjoy the story a bit more. Albus developed a strong friendship with Malfoy’s son and that positive relationship in his life helped lighten the mood of the book. From that point on, the story itself was pretty good, but again, lacking detail due to the format.
I think knowing that the book was a play and missing a lot of context, I might have enjoyed the book a lot more. But billing a play as the “eighth” Harry Potter book (it says so on the book jacket) is misleading and left this particular reader feeling a bit disappointed. I know I would have regretted it if I had no read the book but I might have been more satisfied if this book had been a bit more… divorced from the series that I loved so much.
Night of Cake & Puppets
Daughter of Smoke & Bone 2.5
By Laini Taylor
This novella falls between the second and third books in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy. It is the story of how Zuzana (Karou’s best friend) and Mik officially meet and get together. You see, both had had a crush on each other for quite some time, but both were too timid to make a move. That is, until Zuzana decided it was all or nothing. She sends Mik on a scavenger hunt full of riddles and puppets (and just a little bit of magic, compliments of Karou). Zuzana waits for Mike at the end, where the two talk for the first time and share their first kiss.
Review/Recommendation: While the story was cute, I ended up being disappointed by the novella. It just didn’t measure up to the high bar set by the trilogy. There was some of Zuzana’s quirky trademark personality, but overall, the characters did not feel like the same characters in the books. Zuzana was overly dramatic – which was her personality – but here it felt off, maybe because it was kind of an over-the-top-obsessed-and-in-love sort of drama that just irritated me. Mik – who narrated about have of the novella – also came off as a wimpy sap. I liked him a lot more in the trilogy than in the novella.
That being said, it was a quick read (or in my case, a few hours listening while I was working out) and I wanted to know how the two got together, so I don’t regret reading it. It did complete the story for me, despite falling short of what I had expected and hoped for.
Note: I had a hard time finding this book in print. I ended up listening to the audio book, available at Audible.
Four: A Divergent Story Collection
By Veronica Roth
Four begins two years before The Divergent Trilogy starts, and is told from the perspective of Tobias Eaton, or Four. It’s a series of short stories:
- The Transfer
- The Initiate
- The Son
- The Traitor
The first story was about Tobias’s last days with his father and his transfer from Abnegation to to Dauntless. The second story detailed Tobias’s initiation and the story behind his new name, and the only name the Dauntless will know him as, Four. From there, I’m not quite sure how the stories paired with the titles. (I listened to the book, rather than read it, and the breaks from one story to the next were not clear at all.) Between the last two stories, Four uncovered a plot that was the beginning of the end for the Dauntless and struggled with how to deal with it, to include involving his Abnegation and Factionless parents.
The book ends with three scenes from The Divergent Trilogy written from Four’s point of view.
The Plot: I was far from impressed by this set of short stories. For one thing, the short stories didn’t add all that much to the trilogy. Most of Four’s history was alluded to or told, outright, in the trilogy. Hearing it from Four’s perspective didn’t add a whole lot.
Furthermore, the Four in the short stories seemed so radically different from the Four we knew from the trilogy. In the trilogy, Four is strong, an even-tempered compliment to Tris’s hotheadedness. Here, Four seems weak, very conflicted, and indecisive. For example, he when he learns about the plot that will take down the Dauntless, he agonizes over the best course of action and when he faces resistance to the path he chose, he gave up fairly easily. I was very surprised and disappointed in this version of Four.
Format: My hubby and I listened to this book on a road trip we took this summer. I was not impressed with the audiobook format – the narrator was bland and boring and as I mentioned above, the four different stories and three “bonus” scenes were not clearly distinguished. The result was a slightly disjointed feeling as the narrator shifted between the stories.
Overall, I’d tell you to skip this book, even if you’re a Divergent fan. While entertaining, there’s not enough substance to make it worthwhile.
Note: This review has been written to avoid spoilers for the books later in the series.
Daughter of Smoke and Bones Trilogy
By Laini Taylor
This trilogy consists of the following books: Daughter of Smoke & Bones (#1), Days of Blood and Starlight (#2), and Dreams of Gods & Monsters (#3). The trilogy tells the story of a blue-headed girl, Karou, who lives in Prague and was raised by monsters. Karou attends an art school and visits her monster family whenever Brimstone – the head of the family – needs her to collect teeth (or “run errands,” as she tells her human friends). But one day, black handprints start appearing on doors that lead to her monster family. The doors burn and Karou is cut off from the only family she’s ever known.
The burning of the doors throws Karou into a tailspin. She embarks on a search to find her loved ones and in the process, becomes a key player in another world, Eretz, a world of which she knew nothing. Karou is the only human in a world of angels (seraph) and monsters, or “creatures of mixed aspect” (chimera).* It takes an angel (Akiva) to introduce her to the world – to unveil the secrets of her past; shed light on a war in which she’d play a key role; and encourage her to dream of peace.
Review/Recommendation: I started this series because it seemed to be all over the place – I was seeing the trilogy in bookstore displays and it was regularly popping up in my Goodreads feed. I knew little about the trilogy until I picked up the first book and read the back, which actually read more like a mystery than it actually was. Even though it wasn’t what I expected, I was hooked almost immediately.
The Format: I listened to the first book in the trilogy but read the other two. I enjoyed both formats, but am really glad I listened to the first book. It helped immensely in learning the intended pronunciation of foreign and made up names and words that appeared frequently in all three books.
The Writing: For the most part, the writing was simple, clean, and easy to read. However, in Daughter of Smoke & Bones, something about the verbiage used made me think that Taylor was attempting to appeal to an older audience or was still finding her voice. This didn’t happen frequently, but the instances dwindled and eventually disappeared as the story progressed.
The Story & The Characters: I thoroughly enjoyed the storyline that traversed the trilogy. Taylor quickly engaged the reader, or at least me, making it difficult to put the books down. There is something in the series for everyone – a little mystery and intrigue, secrets and deception, betrayal and revenge, love, and a lot of hope.
All of the characters in the trilogy had strong personalities that evoked strong feelings for the reader – love them, hate them, be repulsed by them, whatever… all of the primary and secondary characters evoked a strong feeling for me as I was reading. There was a fairly wide spread of personalities – indisputable villains among both the seraph and chimera, quirky and witty human friends, Akiva’s strong-willed sister and gentle-tempered brother… the diversity kept the books interesting. I appreciated that both these major characters as well as other secondary characters showed the propensity for change, as they got to know other characters and the opposite species.
The story slowed down a bit towards the end (the second half of the third book), as things got a little more… philosophical, as the characters delved into discussions about the existence of space and time barriers. Interesting, but a very difference change of pace from the rest of the trilogy.
All in all, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this series, since I picked it up pretty randomly. If you haven’t read any of Taylor’s works and enjoy fantasy novels, I definitely recommend this one. For my part, I will most certainly be checking out Taylor’s other work very soon.
So I have something a little embarrassing to admit. This post is soooo long overdue. Like, so long that I read the book twice in order to do really do my review justice. I just cannot seem to carve out enough time to spend on the blog. I really need to go back to my grad school habit of visiting a coffee shop for a few hours of quiet every weekend.
Anyway, without further ado, I give you my review of Allegiant, the third book in the Divergent series. If you have not read my review of the first two books in the series, check them out here.
Book Review: Divergent Trilogy
Book 3: Allegiant
By Veronica Roth
Book three in the Divergent series picked up where the previous book left off. The factions ceased to exist. There is only the factionless and the allegiant, those that wanted a return to the factions and the principles upon which their city was founded.
Tris and Four join a handful of the allegiant in a trip beyond the city walls, to see what lies before them. There their world, although already spinning from revelations about the creation of the city, is upended once again as they discover that even that was a lie. The two struggle to figure out not their own future but also that of everyone still within the city.
Review/Recommendation: I enjoyed Allegiant. The story was pretty good, and to be honest, Roth completely shocked me with her ending. It shouldn’t have been unexpected, but so rarely do books end in such a way… but no more on that (no spoilers!). I’ll just say that the ending was very surprising and that she wrapped up the story very nicely. One of the better endings I’ve read, actually.
One of my more frequent criticisms of young adult books is that the characters get a little whiny, ruining an otherwise great story. Insurgent, book two in the series, was no different. However, I’m really happy to report that Allegiant did not follow that tradition. Tris returned as a strong character, more mature than she was in the earlier books of the series.
I think my only complaint about Allegiant was that the chapters alternated points of view between Tris and Four. That would have been fine, but the two characters largely had the same voice, making it sometimes easy to forget whose point of view you were reading from.
Overall, a great end to the trilogy.
Book Review: Divergent Series
Book 1: Divergent
Book 2: Insurgent
By Veronica Roth
Background: Beatrice Prior lives in a world where society (dystopian Chicago) is divided into 5 factions, each which values a different virtue above all else. During the 16th year, young adults must take an aptitude test and decide whether they want to remain in the faction they were born into or switch to another faction. There is Abnegation, who value selflessness, Amity, who value peace and harmony; Candor, who value truthfulness; Dauntless, who value fearlessness; or Erundite, who value knowledge. All of those who are not part of a faction are factionless; they are impoverished and homeless.
Divergent: Divergent begins at that time in Beatrice’s life where she must choose her faction. Born into Abnegation, Beatrice takes her aptitude test and is told that there is not just one faction that she fits into but three. This is unique and dangerous. This makes her Divergent.
Beatrice decides that she is not selfless enough to remain with family in Abnegation and chooses to switch to Dauntless. This first book follows Beatrice, renamed Tris, during her initiation into Dauntless. She learns to handle weapons, to fight, and to be fearless – she has to in order to be accepted into the faction. If she is not accepted, she will be factionless.
Training is incredibly difficult for Tris. Not only is she is a faction transfer, but she is very small and compared to the Dauntless-born initiates, unprepared for the physical and mental feats demanded of her. If training isn’t enough, Tris must also face her feelings for her older teacher, Four and hide the fact that she is Divergent. And the icing on the cake? In the midst of her training, Tris and Four discover unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel their seemingly perfect society.
Insurgent: The second book in the Divergent series, Insurgent picks up where Divergent leaves off – delving deeper into the unrest and conflict that is discovered at the end of the first book. War breaks out between the factions. Friends and family are pitted against each other. Neutrality is next to impossible. Insurgent is full of secrets and betrayals; sadness, guilty, and hidden agendas.
Yes, the summary of this second book is short but it is a pretty good description of the constant turmoil that takes place throughout the book. You don’t need the play-by-play, you should read the book instead. 🙂
Review & Recommendation: I really enjoyed the first two books in this young adult dystopian series. The strength of Divergent was the introduction and evolution of the characters. There was one main plot line that carried the book, with smaller stories on the sidelines, but that would ultimately be pulled back into the larger story.
In contrast, the constant plot turns was the strength of the second book. It was like watching an action movie – as soon as one story resolved, another one immediately began. That’s the reason why the summary above was so brief – it was a constant chain of events that will keep you hooked. I think I read the book in less than two days. The one downfall to Insurgent is something that I think is fairly common in the later books of young adult series – the main character becomes a bit whiny, a bit too self-centered, a bit too enveloped by her own self-pity.
I’m looking forward to book 3, Allegiant, set to be released on October 22, 2013. Stay tuned for my review of it upon its release.
Edit: Find my review of Allegiant here.
The Graceling Realms
By Kristin Cashore
A Graceling is a person who possesses a particular skill, a Grace, far surpassing the capabilities of ordinary people. This skill might be practical – such as cooking, fighting, math – or something paranormal, such as mind-reading. Gracelings are distinguished from an early age by their eyes: each eye a different color.
In the land of seven kingdoms, Gracelings are treated differently. In most kingdoms, Gracelings are offered up to the kings. If the king had a use for a particular Grace, the Graceling lived at the court, trained, and served the kingdom. If their Grace was not useful, they were sent home to lead a normal life, although they were often ostracized by their neighbors.
Graceling (published Oct. 2008): In Cashore’s debut novel, Lady Katsa, niece to the king of Middluns, is graced with an unbelievable ability to fight. Trained by the royal guard, she becomes known as the king’s thug, his enforcer. She is the one he sends to enforce his will or punish those who disobey him.
However, as Katsa grows older, she begins to use her Grace for good. She and a trusted group form the Council, under which they attempt to right the wrongs committed by monarchs across the seven kingdoms. After one of these such quests, she meets and befriends Prince Po of Lienid. Together, they embark on a long journey against Katsa’s toughest adversary yet, an adversary she shouldn’t have a chance against.
Spoiler: During this adventure, Katsa rescues 10-year old Princess Bitterblue of Monsea and falls in love.
Fire (published Oct. 2009): The second book in the Graceling Realm series is sort of a prequel to Graceling. Only one character from the first book appears in Fire. The character does not play a huge role in the story but we do get a glimpse of his past, which is not detailed in Graceling.
The main storyline in Fire revolves around a monster named Fire. The only human monster left in Dells (the other monsters in the story are colorful, hypnotic animals, most with a taste for blood), beautiful Fire struggles to distinguish herself from her father’s awful legacy. Like all monsters, Fire’s presence is alluring. People are drawn to her, sometimes in attraction and other times in hostility. However, Fire’s kindness and morality overcome her father’s legacy of violence, cruelty, and selfishness as she embarks on a journey to help save the monarchy in Dells and limit the damages of civil war.
Bitterblue (written with Ian Schoenherr, published May 2012): Graceling ends. Fast-forward eight years. Bitterblue is queen of Monsea. Under her leadership, the kingdom is working to recover from life under Bitterblue’s crazy, manipulative predecessor.
However, Bitterblue’s advisers and subordinates are beginning to act strangely. She’s unable to implement the programs she wants to. Her advisers are seen wandering the castle at odd hours. In an attempt to gain some space and freedom, Bitterblue begins sneaking out of the castle into the city. She becomes drawn by glimpses of the past, of unanswered questions. As her advisers act increasing odd and her new friends in the city are threatened, Bitterblue isn’t quite sure what to do. Katsa, Po, and several other characters from Graceling are around to help Bitterblue out.
Review: One of the awesome things about my book club is that every one of us has a different taste in books. Graceling was chosen by an elementary school media specialist-librarian. For the third time, her pick was a success (see: Hunger Games and Life As We Knew It). I really enjoyed Graceling, so much that I couldn’t wait for the second and third book to come from the library. Thank you, Nook.
Overall, this was a great series, a very quick, light read. After the second book, I was wondering if it was necessary to read them in order. I still think that the first two books can be flip-flopped, if really needed, but Bitterblue pulls the stories together beautifully. (Nope, not going to explain how Fire is tied in with Graceling. I don’t want to spoil anything for you.)
Each of the three books has very similar themes: a little romance, fighting tyrants in the kingdoms (both living and after their death), overcoming perceptions… It sounds like the typical formula, but I was sucked in. The characters were fun and a little quirky. I especially enjoyed the strong female roles in the first two books.
I only had one complaint with these books. No, with one book, Bitterblue. There were parts of Bitterblue were the voice was wrong, the dialog a little off. The moments were few and far between, but there were definitely moments when I raised my eyebrows at something out of character (such as a “man,” suck at the end of a sentence, something similar to a “come on, man”). I suspect this comes from the fact that the third book was co-authored, unlike the first two. A minor detail, but I hope that if Cashore continues on with the series, that she either writes new books herself or she/her editor pay closer attention to the changes in voice.
This was a great fantasy-ish young adult series that I’d definitely recommend. Because of the heavy dose of romance, the series had a more chick-lit feel to it, rather than fantasy. It’s a great beach book.
A Discovery of Witches
By Deborah Harkness
Diana Bishop was born a witch but after her parents died, she wanted nothing to do with being a witch. She avoided it every way possible – she refused to use her powers and refused to learn about witchcraft from her aunts. Instead, Diana ran, rowed, and did yoga to get out her excess energy caused by the bottled up magic.
One day, everything changed. While doing research in an Oxford library, Diana calls up an ancient alchemy manuscript, Ashmole 782. The manuscript is cursed and releases a long chain of events that forced Diana to return to her roots. She gets thrown into a world of vampires and unknown magic, mystery and conspiracy.
Recommendation: If you enjoy the paranormal, than this is a book for you. Stories of witches, vampires and daemons are intertwined with the present and the past. There was just enough flare of romance, violence, and mystery to keep the reader engaged.
I’ve heard someone compare A Discovery of Witches to Twilight. If that’s what you’re thinking, I would disagree. Sure, A Discovery of Witches has love between a vampire and a non-vampire, but I felt this book was a far cry from the Twilight series. While still classified as a young adult book, it did not feel like one while reading it. The characters were older and much more mature. There were scholarly strands running through the book as the characters consistently referenced alchemy and great authors and works of the past.
I was disappointed when the book ended. I wanted to reads the next part of the story. You know it’s a good book when you keep thinking about it after you’re done, and stalk the author’s website for information about the next book. Unfortunately, book 2 in the trilogy, Shadow of Night, isn’t due to be released until summer 2012. It’s going to be a long way
By Jennifer Donnelly
When I began Revolution, I was not sure I would enjoy it. The book began with a glimpse at Andi Alper’s life, which was falling apart. Andi and her mother were both hit hard over the death of her younger brother. Andi blamed herself and was suicidal. Her mother was consumed by grief and unable to function normally. Andi’s father lived far away, uninvolved in her life. When he showed up, the father and daughter butted heads and could not understand or relate to one another. Andi had lost interest in everything but her music, but even that couldn’t keep her out of depression and away from suicidal thoughts.
I thought this teenage anguish would dominate throughout the book, but it didn’t. Andi’s emotional turmoil was still there,but did not dominate the story.The first two-thirds of Revolution flashes between Andi in the present and the diary of Alexandrine Paradis, a French woman who lived during the French Revolution. Andi becomes increasingly interested in Alexandrine’s life – her time living with the royal family as a companion to the prince, her close relationship with prince Louis Charles (Louis XVII), and France during the French Revolution. As Andi continues her music, both playing her guitar and researching a French composer for her thesis, and delves deeper into the diary, she takes the first steps to overcoming her grief and guilt over her brother’s death.
The last third of the novel consists of Andi’s “trip” back to 1795, where she lives the history she had been reading about. Initially Andy was convinced that she had overdosed on her antidepressants. Before long, Andi starts making connection back to Alexandrine’s life and as well as that of the composer she was researching.
These experience bring Andi back to life. She starts to overcome her problems and regains the will to live.
Recommendation: I would definitely recommend Revolution to anyone who enjoys historical fiction novels. While I was originally concerned that the book would have too much teenage anguish, I found that the French history played a much stronger role in the storyline than Andi’s emotional struggles. There was just enough there to maintain a connection with the characters but not get bogged down in her depressing thoughts. I found the storyline creative and addictive – I didn’t want to put the book down!
Grade: A- (4 of 5 stars on goodreads)
The Hunger Games Series
By Suzanne Collins
I decided to review this series as a whole because much like the Harry Potter books, once you start this series, you won’t want to put it down. In fact, not since Harry Potter has a young adult series grabbed my attention quite like this one.
There are some spoilers below. I tried to keep the descriptions brief so that I don’t give away too much, so forgive me for the short descriptions!
Background: Set in the future, the nation of Panem took the place of what was once known as North America. The Capitol rules Panem, made up of the Capitol and 12 surrounding districts, with an iron fist. Each year, the Capitol reminds the districts of how powerful they are by forcing each district to send a boy and girl (drawn by lottery) to fight – for survival, for a better life for their district, for love – in the annual Hunger Games. Only one participant will survive.
The Hunger Games: In the first book in the series, we follow the representatives from District 12, Katniss and Peeta, in their quest to win the Hunger Games. Trained by the only living Hunger Games victor from their district, Katniss and Peeta enter an uneasy alliance as they fight for survival and for a better life for their district.
Catching Fire: Katniss and Peeta return to District 12 heroes – not only did they win, but both got to return home, a first in the history of the games. However, the Capitol (the creepy President Snow, in particular) is furious with Katniss for ensuring their dual victory. Both are forced to return to the arena, along with former winners from the other districts, to once again fight for their life.
During all of this, it becomes increasingly easy to get immersed in the two subplot lines of the book: a Katniss-Peeta-Gale (Katniss’s best friend) love triangle and a the beginnings of what may become a revolution against the Capitol.
Mockingjay: Mockingjay is the final book in the trilogy and the battle for Panem unity and for the Capitol (yep, gave that away). Anyone who survived the all-stars Hunger Games of Catching Fire is pretty much messed up, despite being considered the face of the revolution. Will the Capitol survive? With the districts and survivors be defeated? Read it and find out! (Hey, I’m trying not to have too many spoilers! So that’s it, that’s all you get for the last book.)
Recommendation:Love the plot line – so creative. I really couldn’t put this series down. My one complaint with the series (and I felt like this with parts of Harry Potter as well) is that some of that characters in this last book got a bit whiny. Maybe it’s something about young adult books, but certain characters really grated on my nerves in the last book. Or maybe it’s just me.
However, that being said, I’m so glad I read this series (and no, there’s no way not to finish it once you get started). I would absolutely recommend this book to teenagers and adults alike. If you’re a Harry Potter fan or don’t mind sci-fi / futuristic books, then this is a must read. If you dislike these genres, then skip it.