Saturday, August 31, 2013


Title: Insurgent
Author: Veronica Roth
Series: Divergent, book 2
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2012
Rating: 7/10

Review: I decided to continue reading the series, even though the third book isn't available yet. Insurgent picks up where Divergent left off and continues the story of Tris and Tobias.

I didn't enjoy this book as much as the first one. Perhaps it's the novelty of the ideas and the world that have worn off. Or maybe it's just the effect of endless shooting and politics that dominate this book, but it just didn't touch me as much at the debut novel did. It was entertaining, but lacked the oomph factor. Especially with Tris mostly behaving like a zombie most of the time, I had a hard time relating to her.

The ending of the book is pretty clever and leaves a cliffhanger interesting enough that I will probably be picking up Allegiant when it comes out later this year.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Series: Divergent, book 1
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2011
Rating: 8.5/10

Review: One of my co-workers recommended this book to me and being on a YA kick this month I decided to give it a go. I was very glad I did too because I enjoyed it a whole lot.

The setting of the book is in post-apocalyptic Chicago where the humans have split into 5 factions. The five factions are Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, Candor, and Dauntless. Plus there are the faction-less folks who are pretty much the poor and the homeless. The five factions each have a defining characteristic that they take very seriously. Our main character, Beatrice or Tris as she calls herself, grows up in Abnegation. This is the faction that celebrates selflessness and tries to help others. At sixteen all children are allowed to choose what faction they will belong to. To help with the decision they are given a test consisting of a simulation designed to suggest the faction they are best suited for.

The story starts on the day of Tris's test where the simulation gives out unexpected results -- she is not suited for any one faction, but she is suited for three of them. She is divergent. And that's something she needs to hide in order to be safe. What follows is the story of Tris's adventures as she initiates with a faction that she chooses.

The plot is fast-paced and has a number of qualities I enjoy: a sympathetic main character, good supporting cast with complex relationship development, a romance, and lots of action. It's a fun story and I stayed late into the night to find out what's going to happen to Tris next. The conclusion of the story leaves a bit to be desired -- it goes by a bit too fast, but I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of it.

The story strongly reminds me of The Hunger Game series. There's a post-apocalyptic world with an underlying political plot. There's a brave and resourceful main heroine who overcomes her obstacles. There's a movie in the works. So if you liked the former, I would definitely recommend this book to you.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Boy Nobody

Title: Boy Nobody
Author: Allen Zadoff
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2013
Rating: 6/10

Review: I picked this book up based on a synopsis I saw on another site. The premise of the story is a 16-year old boy who shows up at your school as a new kid, becomes your friend, and then suddenly someone close to you dies of seemingly natural causes. The boy's parents allegedly move towns and the boy disappears never to be seen again. Of course in this case, the boy is a trained agent, whose mission was to kill.

Really, I only have myself to blame in being disappointed in this book. I think I came with expectations that were a bit too high for a plot like the above. What it turned out to be is a teen high school drama with just enough mention of sex to be interesting to teens and just enough story to keep reading.

The main character's secret protocol procedures just kept me rolling my eyes a whole lot. And he endlessly belabored the point that he's a soldier for whom mission is everything and he will get it done and so on and so forth. For a trained operative who can read people and gain trust so well, he certainly isn't very perceptive about himself and his deductions leave a lot to be desired. That's probably the crux of the problem for me -- I liked the antagonist better. At least she was pretty smart.

The plot was reasonable for a YA story, it had a bit of a twist, even though I saw it coming. Overall, I imagine I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more as a teenager without the critical lens on the believe-ability of the character's actions and motivations. I also didn't connect well with the whole betrayal, mother, father scenario, but Zadoff gets points for adding that layer into the book, it was actually not badly done.

Basically, I would recommend this to actual teenagers. I don't think this works well as a YA for adult enjoyment. This reminded me quite a bit of Francine Pascal's series Fearless. So if you liked this book, you might want to check that out as well.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Human Division

Title: The Human Division
Author: John Scalzi
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2013
Rating: 7/10

Review: The unusual thing about The Human Division is it's format. It came out as a series of episodes that you could buy separately once per week. Each episode is telling a stand-alone story and together they are tied into a larger interconnecting story arch. I am not a huge fan of doing episodic reading, so I waited for all the episodes to be published as a book before I bought it.

The book is set in the Old Man's War universe after the events of The Last Colony. It generally follows Lieutenant Harry Wilson whom we've met previously in the series and the crew of the diplomatic ship Clarke that he's attached to. They take on missions of various improbability and ingenuity and generally come out ahead.

I enjoyed the episodes. The characters are bright, with a sense of humor, and it's fun to watch them deal with difficult situations and come out on top. You definitely get to cheer them on quite a bit through the book. There's some politics and some space battles, this is an easy read with plenty of fun and not a lot of depth. My biggest dissatisfaction with the book is its refusal to actually come to some sort of a resolution at the end. There's certainly a climax, but then it just ends, no explanation to the main story arch suspense point and to me that was really a let down.

Nevertheless, The Human Division is fun, funny, and worth reading for the pure entertainment value. Though perhaps you should wait for the next book (if such should exist) to actually get some sort of closure.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Blackout and All Clear

Title: Blackout and All Clear
Author: Connie Willis
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2010
Rating: 9/10

Review: I bought these two books second-hand off of a co-worker and was very glad I bought them together because they turned out to be just one story published in two-book format.

I gotta make an aside to rant about the whole split into two books publishing trick. I despise that they have decided that it's acceptable to stop a story mid-word and then publish the rest of it in a separate tome 6 months later. Fortunately I had access to both books and could just read them one after another, but if I had finished the first book and didn't have access to the second, I would have been majorly angry. I am happy to pay twice the cost for a single tome, just don't separate what logically belongs together.

Having gotten that out of the way, I have to say that I enjoyed these books immensely. I have really liked all Willis' books dealing with time-traveling historians and this one has not been an exception. In Blackout, three historians travel to WWII. Eileen is there to observe evacuated children in the countryside, Polly is there for the start of the Blitz, and Mike Davis wants to see the evacuation from Dunkirk. All is well until the historians realize that they cannot get back to the future -- their drops won't open. They find each other and start looking for a way to survive in WWII and find their way back to their own time.

I think the best part about these books are the characters. The main trio is slowly introduced and we get to know them really well by their actions and by the way they interact with others. They are admirable -- maybe a little bit too much so, but they are not without flaws and I really liked all three of them. They are a mix of heroic and mundane, which I thought worked really well. Eileen ends up going above and beyond caring for orphaned children, but she is deathly scared of the war. Polly drives an ambulance around the city and saves lives during the raids, but ends up "doing her bit for the war" as an entertainer who shows her knickers to the soldiers in the audience. Mike is travels to the past to study heroes, but ends up a hero himself, and somewhere along the way realizes that regular people make better heroes than the ones he intended to observe. The book is a study in contrasts and I really enjoyed that.

The supporting cast is pretty colorful too. A troupe that befriends Polly has brilliant characters and Eileen's orphans are indomitable hooligans, who still manage to elicit sympathy. Altogether the characters are what makes this story so compelling.

The other part I really enjoyed is the World War II setting. It's been thematically close to some of the other books I read this year and I really like how Blackout/All Clear shows the war in different contexts and tells more about the lives of people during the war. The book has clearly been researched a lot and I liked filling out my gaps in knowledge. I also enjoyed various humorous bits -- for example the orphans pain blackout stripes on the cows in their neighborhood.

I'd definitely recommend these books to pretty much anyone who likes character-driven stories.