Champion by Marie Lu

Champion (Legend, #3)Champion by Marie Lu
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups

And… it’s over.

This series has come a long, long way from where it started and has managed to shatter boundaries and exceed expectations where, in my opinion, other series like Divergent and Blood Red Road have failed. It started out like almost every other piece of dystopian fiction released in 2011. Some random political facts thrown about, set in a future United States that was torn apart by war, oppressive government in power and, of course, a nice little side order of romance that could *almost* be described as instalove. I confess that the first installment didn’t impress me and it took some seriously positive reviews of the second book to make me try it. But I am so glad that I did.

This final book is brimming with action and suspense. The pacing doesn’t slow down for a second and it suits the high-stakes plot. The previous book left us with some shocking information about Day that will surely be at the forefront of most readers’ minds when picking up this conclusion – it doesn’t disappoint. It’s true that there were only a limited number of ways this could end but with Lu it doesn’t seem to matter because she has your mind constantly running through the options and wondering where she’ll take you next. The sense of constant uncertainty instilled in my brain throughout this book was terrifying and intoxicating. It’s been a while since I read a book so completely unputdownable.

I also really like the way Lu has developed her characters. For me, June and Day have come a long way and matured so much since book one. This kind of natural growth is realistic, important and perhaps one of the main reasons I enjoy reading young adult so much – watching the characters flourish, become wiser and deal with all the different pressures of life in this difficult period of growing up (doubly so when your country relies on you). Looking back, I have a certain respect for the author in the way she portrayed their initial meeting and the start of their relationship. What seemed like lazy writing, in hindsight, actually seems like Lu deliberately showed the difference in maturity between the relationships of hormonal teens and young adults who’ve experienced a bit of life. Day and June were far more likeable as a couple in this book than I’ve ever noticed before.

The last two or three chapters of this book literally had me on the edge of my seat. I couldn’t look away. It takes a skilled writer to have you questioning what will happen right up until the last page. And it takes an even more skilled writer to bring tears to my eyes. Sometimes I say books make me cry when I really mean they just get a sniffle and an “awww” out of me… because I’m a cold-hearted person. But this book made my eyes fill up at the end. An ending that I thought was perfectly ambiguous – full of both sadness and hope. Why? Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.


She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

She Is Not InvisibleShe Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups

I honestly think that Marcus Sedgwick is one of the most underrated writers that I’ve ever read. His books often leave me feeling mesmerised long after I’ve left the final page behind. He doesn’t care about trends or pleasing people. He delivers unique stories and interesting narratives – each of which is nothing like the last. He writes in different genres and isn’t afraid to cross the lines of them and make you wonder exactly what you’ve let yourself in for. I have a lot of admiration for him. From the beautifully written historical fiction of Revolver, to the strange but compelling fantasy of Midwinterblood, he has always seemed to deliver. Which, I think, makes She Is Not Invisible doubly disappointing.

This book tries. You can see it trying from page one. Maybe, you might say, it tries too hard. I was initially delighted by the introduction of a blind teen protagonist – not something I am too familiar with – and the engaging opening that presents us with a bizarre mystery. In this story, Laureth Peak’s father is a famous writer who appears to have gone missing. He is supposed to be doing research in Europe but all is apparently not what it seems when someone contacts Laureth informing her that her father’s notebook has been found in New York. Afraid for her father’s safety and perhaps even his sanity, Laureth runs away with her brother on a mission to locate their missing parent after the other one seems unconcerned. Even inexperienced readers will find themselves mentally working through the possibilities of what could have happened – good news is, you’re all probably wrong.

But there’s bad news too. Or there was for me. Firstly, there’s a lack of believability in everything that happens in this novel. I can suspend disbelief quite a lot, I really can. But not only does Laureth manage to fool numerous airport staff into letting a blind sixteen-year-old girl leave the country with her kid brother, she also manages to sufficiently distract the security at the New York airport enough that they simply wave her through. That’s right. The security staff at an airport were like “oh well, we’re a bit distracted with this other thing over here so go on through”. The book was already losing me by this point.

The problems I had with the believability were a real shame. More so in this than other books because I really appreciated the author trying to realistically portray the way a blind person perceives the world. Through Laureth, I had the opportunity to think about things I don’t normally consider and understand a bit more about the difficulties facing people with little to no eyesight. It made for some sad and terrifying scenes in the book. But it still failed in the end, if you ask me. The book became a joke with every ridiculous turn it took and this detracted from what had started as something really special.

Though perhaps the thing I disliked most were the attempts to make this book deeply philosophical. This is what I mean when I said it tried too hard. Unlike the other novels I’ve read by this author, the book set out to convey a message, not to tell a story. And it didn’t work. The slow build-up was manageable only because it seemed to promise a wow factor somewhere down the line… it was anticlimactic, to say the least. The main story is split up with pages of Laureth’s father’s notebook which talks about coincidence, patterns of the universe, Einstein (amongst other scientists) and the general meaning of it all. It asked big questions but seemed to end with a shrug of its metaphorical shoulders that left me feeling like I’d just wasted the last couple of hours. Very disappointing.


Gated by Amy Christine Parker

GatedGated by Amy Christine Parker
My rating: 4 of 5 teacups

I don’t know what I was expecting from Gated. My first bet was on zombies but, if not that, my second guess was Mormons. Turns out I was wrong! This is a book that starts mild and entertaining. It paints you a picture of the protagonist – Lyla – and introduces the reader to her life which, though strange, seems peaceful and pleasant. But then, like a hidden monster crouching beneath the surface, the dark creepiness starts to be unveiled to us. The community where Lyla lives might not be the sanctuary she’s always believed. And the man who leads them might be hiding secrets Lyla never imagined.

Gated completely took me by surprise; from the plot to the characters to the way I felt myself getting more and more hooked as the story went on. This is one of those times when I really appreciate a creepy realistic thriller instead of something more supernatural. There’s something deeply chilling about the knowledge that – not only could this happen – but it actually does in many places around the world. I’ve always been a bit fascinated by cults and their many forms. What does it take to convince people to give up their lives and join you in believing something that, more often than not, is completely bizarre? It amazes me even further the way these small communities tend to reject national law in favour of placing all power in the hands of their own dictator. It amazes me that some people actually have the charm and influence to make this happen.

It’s weird to think that these aren’t all crazy people or those who’ve been born into this life and know nothing else. Cults also recruit people who have your standard, 9-to-5, average lives and make them believe something other than what they’ve always known. It’s scary. I don’t know about you, but it makes me question my own susceptibility. As much as I’d like to say a very firm “no”, is it possible that I could get caught up in something like this? I mean, judging by the half-empty tub of Ben&Jerry’s in my freezer, I wouldn’t say I’m about to win any willpower awards. Who knows? The psychology of cult behaviour is both fascinating and terrifying.

Back to the book. As I touched upon before, the pace of the novel seems to slowly increase as you move along. One minute I thought I was safe and then suddenly I’d gotten to the climax of the novel and my pulse was pounding. It’s a book that will make you angry, then sad, then scared for Lyla, then angry again. More than anyone in this book, I felt such a huge sense of outrage towards Lyla’s parents. They let her down, put her in danger and stood by while she was physically abused. I don’t know if this is really a spoiler but I’ll tag it just in case: (view spoiler)

Possibly the thing I like most about this book is the way the author isn’t afraid to go there. Not many YA authors are brave enough to put their characters through several levels of hell. I don’t like situations in books (or movies, tv, etc.) where the tension is sapped out of the moment by the knowledge that the writer(s) will never dare kill the good guys or just, you know, go there. I don’t even know why the Vampire Diaries writers insist on having those scenes where Damon nearly dies with dramatic music in the background. No one actually believes they’re going to kill off Ian Somerhalder’s character – they’d lose at least half their viewers! Okay, I will stop digressing.

There is one thing I take issue with in this book. And it’s Cody. I didn’t mind the touch of romance between him and Lyla because it was kept on the sidelines but I would question her decision to trust him in the first place. Lyla has never trusted anyone from the outside because she believes they’re damned and evil and yet, despite this, she trusts Cody. Why? I’ll tell you: because he is SO HOT. It didn’t bug me in this anywhere near as much as it did in Hopeless, but I keep seeing this whole thing where girls trust male strangers/people they’ve been specifically warned about because of their pretty faces. It’s kind of a dangerous message, even if Lyla was right to trust him. But the positives outweigh the negatives by a lot.

I really enjoyed this book and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more by Ms Parker.


World After by Susan Ee

World After (Penryn & the End of Days, #2)World After by Susan Ee
My rating: 3.5 of 5 teacups

World After ticks a lot of boxes but it simply isn’t as strong a story as we were given in Angelfall. I don’t know how many books are planned for this series but it seems to fall prey to what would be called “middle book syndrome” in a trilogy. The story plods along, giving the novel a weighted feel which made it easy to put aside at times (something that could never be said for the previous book). My rating leans towards the positive because I did enjoy this sequel – Ee has a talent for balancing gory, gritty action scenes with playful and hilarious banter – but I admit that I was expecting something more from possibly my most anticipated book of this year. Still, the last fifty pages exploded with flashes of everything I love – action, humour, unexpected plot turns and romance – and I adore Penryn enough to know I will be returning for more.

Readers will surely recognise the author’s delightfully sarcastic touches of humour straight away – I found myself laughing aloud multiple times, even when I’d been cringing in horror and sat tense on the edge of my seat just moments earlier. I think this is what I like most about Ee’s writing: she somehow manages to make it both creepy and funny at the same time. This rarely works for me; I almost always find the humour draining the scary atmosphere out of each scene or the jokes falling flat amid the descriptions of gore… but Ee makes it work perfectly. Penryn is as badass as ever, always in the centre of the battle and fighting for the ones she loves. Raffe also returns (though not often enough if you ask me) for hilarity and sexual tension.

My main issue is the lack of progression in this book. Angelfall took us on a wild journey that presented us with so much fascinating information, angel lore and complexly-woven characters and relationships. World After, on the other hand, takes baby steps and reminds us of many things we already know: that Penryn feels conflicted about her newly monstrous sister, that she and Raffe have the hots for one another, etc, etc. While it wasn’t a bad read, I felt like it could have all happened in a few chapters rather than spread over an entire book. The greatest progress made by this sequel is in the character development of Penryn’s mother. She becomes more than the token crazy person in World After and we see her for what she really is: a confused but intelligent woman who loves her children very dearly. This aspect of the book was fantastic, IMO.

A good sequel that could have been better with more careful plotting and pacing – perhaps the author intends this series to be longer than it needs to be (as is often the case). But I enjoyed World After a lot and I’m not surprised to see other reviewers expressing their continued love. I just hope the third book doesn’t take so long!