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Review : Mockingjay

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Pages : 390
Genre : YA, Speculative fiction
Series : The Hunger Games, Book 3
My Rating :

(review may contain spoilers on the series)

I first read Mockingjay when it was published back in 2010. After a year of waiting, I was too excited to wait anymore and read it almost in one sitting. Reading the last few pages, I was left both satisfied and dissatisfied, but mostly confused about whether I had enjoyed it or hated it. There was just too much information, too many events and twists and turns, for me to process in what had been a few hours.

Despite not writing my review of it, I went online and read tons of them, hoping something would click and that I would finally understand my feelings about it. As it turned out, some people absolutely loved it, others hated it, and I could relate to most of their arguments. A book has rarely left me so confused, and a year and a half later, all I could remember, except for Prim’s death, was that Katniss spent most of the book drugged and sleeping.

A little over a week ago, I decided to reread The Hunger Games to be prepared for the movie. After watching it, I really felt like rereading the following two books, as I had never read them all as a whole before. So here we are!

I am pleased to say that, reading it just after the two previous books, in a calmer state of mind, I truly enjoyed Mockingjay. It was fast, heartbreaking, horrifying, intriguing, and even though I had read it and knew where it lead, I kept being surprised and the emotion from the scenes still got to me (I had forgotten a lot of what happened to Peeta, apparently!)

I related a lot more to Katniss this time around. Knowing in parts what was coming in the story, I was able to focus on her character and her interior battles much more. My first reaction : how can this girl still get up in the morning after all that’s happened to her? I was also pleased to see that, though she does spend a lot of time sleeping and healing, she also participates in many events. In fact, I found it refreshing to have a main character who isn’t always standing in the middle of every  important scene happening in her world. It was realistic, because no matter how important she is to the cause, I don’t believe adults would happily handle all of their very important business to a 16, 17 years old girl. While as a reader I found this frustrating the first time around, I ended up appreciating this aspect of the book. There’s enough action in Mockingjay, and adding more would probably have taken away from Katniss’ personal story.

Speaking of Katniss, I appreciated her state of mind more after a second reading. Reading the three books in a row, it made it easier for me to understand what she had lost, lived through, suffered in less than a couple of years. I feel that P.T.S.D. isn’t even enough to describe what she was going through. Katniss isn’t strong in every scene because she is, in many way, just a regular girl who wants to be left alone. But she doesn’t get a break, with all sides using her, and though I enjoy strong characters, it is extremely refreshing to have one who seems human in her reactions and decisions. Katniss is a complex character, just like I love them, with flaws that become strengths and strengths that become flaws. Like the world she lives in, Katniss isn’t black or white but somewhere in between, which is very true to life.

If there is one thing though that hasn’t changed since my first reading, it’s my opinion on the epilogue. Now, I do appreciate knowing what goes on in her life, many years later. It’s nice to know that life goes on, even though she’ll forever live with that dark cloud over her head. The problem is, I found this epilogue to be so weak after the book’s conclusion! The last sentences of Mockingjay, before the epilogue, are some of the strongest I have read for a series’ last words. They are perfect for the characters, the story, they have a strength and an emotional weight that the epilogue doesn’t. So for me, the book’s last word will forever be, “Real”.

Before concluding, I also want to give huge props to the author for making what has been, I am sure, some very difficult decisions. There’s a lot of heartbreak in Mockingjay, even more than in the previous books. I am sure some readers found it gratuitous, but for me, it was realistic : we don’t choose who goes first, nor do we choose how or why. And so it is in the world of Panem.

I am so glad that I reread not only Mockingjay, but the complete series. It is clear to me now why The Hunger Games is always the book I compare other YA novels of dystopia. Even though I often find them thrilling and entertaining, there isn’t one that has captured both my imagination and my heart like The Hunger Games.

Series Reading Order :

  1. The Hunger Games
  2. Catching Fire
  3. Mockingjay

Review : Fracture

Fracture by Megan Miranda
Pages : 262
Genre : Ya, Fiction, Paranormal
Stand Alone
My Rating :

What it’s about :

When Delaney fell through the ice into the cold water, her chances for survival were very slim; and yet here she is, a week later, alive despite being underwater for eleven minutes.

Her doctor can’t explain any of it; why she survived, why she woke up from her coma, why she isn’t brain damaged. And he certainly can’t explain why she feels this sudden itch when she gets close to dying people. Did she develop a new ability, or is she, after all, damaged? If anyone can answer, maybe the mysterious Troy, who seems to always be around when she expects it the least,  can…

My Thoughts :

I am feeling generous with the stars today!

Fracture was surprisingly good. Not that I was expecting something bad (if I was, I wouldn’t have read it!), but I didn’t think it would be this good! This feeling probably comes from the fact that Fracture isn’t your typical YA paranormal novel – and because of that, I can see why many readers were disappointed with it, or just didn’t like it as much as I did.

There’s a romance, even a love triangle, although in retrospect, not really. On one side you have Troy, the new and mysterious and really dark kind of guy, and on the other you have Delaney’s best friend Decker, her neighbor who has forever been part of her life. The tension between these two was very different from the one Delaney had with Troy, but very complicated, too. Troy seems to have answers and, in a situation where her parents don’t trust her and her best friend has his own secrets, he seems to be the only one she can turn to. However, she desperately wants to be back to normal with Decker, but as they each keep things from each other, their relationship is now very uncomfortable. It felt realistic to me that their relationship changed as the grew up, and that they weren’t sure what do to with it, or how to act around each other anymore.

I loved Delaney as a character, even though she might not be the most likable person out there. She is honest about how she feels, for instance saying that others’ generosity surprise her because she isn’t sure she would have done the same things in return. I’ve never liked characters that are too perfect, so to have Delaney’s flaws exposed like this made her feel more realistic than most characters. Plus, her parents, very present in her life, felt extremely real, too. As much as I felt for Delaney, I felt for her mother too.

Also, I really liked the writing. Something in the way the author uses the words made it easy to relate to Delaney, to feel how she felt and to root for her.

The paranormal part was, in some ways, a very small part of the story. It’s there, and a constant preoccupation of Delaney’s, yes. But there is so much more going on in this little book! If you are expecting ghost hunting or action or lots of paranormal activity, you might get disappointed. Everything about Delaney’s new “ability” is dealt with in a very normal way, and though we get some answers, nothing is completely clear by the end of the story (not to me, anyway!)

Which brings me to the book’s conclusion. I felt it was a really strong one. It was a bit dark, a bit hopeful, but also true to life in that not every piece of Delaney’s life is suddenly fixed. We can see that things are getting better and will probably be even better in the coming months, but not everything is tied up with a nice little bow.

I almost only have positives to say about Fracture and, honestly, I don’t even want to bother with the negative aspects of it. Without being a life changing story, it definitely was a breath of fresh air among other paranormal YA novels, and one of my favorites of 2012 so far. I’m looking forward to reading more of Megan Miranda, hopefully in a close future!

Review : Hallowed

Hallowed by Cynthia Hand
Pages : 403
Genre : YA, Paranormal
Series : Unearthly, Book 2
My Rating :

What it’s about :

Just as she is trying to put behind the fires and everything that went down that night, Clara starts having a new vision. This time, it comes in the shape of a terrifying dream where she is losing someone she loves. But who? Is it possible for her to stop it?

As if the constant worrying for her close ones wasn’t enough, Clara also has to deal with her brother’s strange attitude, the growing tensions in the triangle formed by Christian, Tucker and herself, and learning every day a little more about who she is. But before this chapter of her life is over, everything in her life will be forever changed.

My Thoughts :

Oh. My. God.

I thought Unearthly was good, yes, far above the average young adult paranormal romance. Still I was unprepared for Hallowed, and how much I liked it. What am I saying? I loved it. I’m talking about a 4.5 starts coming really close to a 5 here!

It was not only a captivating story, but also a very, very emotional one – something I hadn’t expected at all from a novel of the genre. After all, YA paranormal is what I turn to to be entertained. Here though, Cynthia Hand gets close and personal with death, grief and the sense of powerlessness that accompanies both. She delivers a story with depth where Clara goes through all kinds of emotions, and us with her.

Also, I can’t say enough of the author’s great writing of a fantastic romance. I have mentioned more than once before being tired of the love triangle, but this might be the exception. I felt that Hand didn’t hesitate to go where many authors won’t, tearing apart what was already established to start anew. Tucker is still a lovely boy, but as we get to know Christian better through time, it is impossible to resist his charm and good nature. Plus, his understanding of Clara was exactly what she needed, when she needed it. Without taking anything away from Tucker, Christian developed in his own character and we finally get to really know him.

There’s still an element of danger with the Black Wings more or less hanging around, making Hallowed a constant roller coaster of emotions and adventures. We learn just so, so much about angels in this book that it kept me constantly on my toes, trying to guess what was next. I was very happy to see many of my predictions come true! Because of Hand’s fantastic writing, I didn’t feel as if it had been predictable; there was always an element of surprise in the details, or with the moment chosen for new revelations and twists.

I’m so glad this turned out to be even better than I expected! Book three will only be coming out in 2013, and this seems a bit too far from now for my taste!

Series Reading Order :

  1. Unearthly
  2. Hallowed (coming January 2012)
  3. – coming in 2013 –

Review : Legend

Legend by Marie Lu
Pages : 305
Genre : YA, Dystopia
Series : Legend, Book 1
My Rating : 

What it’s About :

What once was the United States of America is now divided between the Colonies and the Republic, two entities engaged in an endless war. At the hearth of the Republic live two fifteen-year-old coming from two opposite backgrounds : June, a prodigy of the highest military circles, and Day, a wanted criminal living on the streets. When the murder of June’s brother brings them together, the two discover secrets that will forever change their lives.

My Thoughts :

In some aspects Legend doesn’t distinguish itself from most YA dystopias : teen heros battling an evil government, a touch of science fiction, lots of action, a touch of danger and voilà! Those who are tired of the genre might not find it the most refreshing novel, but as someone who loves dystopia and isn’t tired of it yet, I found Legend to be one of the best dystopia novels I have read in the last twelve months.

First of all, I thought the writing was great. I’d say simple, to the point, while carrying emotions in a believable manner. The novel is told both from June and Day’s point-of-view, and I thought the author did really good in writing them in a distinctive manner – and not just because they were printed in different fonts (though this was a nice touch)!

As for June and Day, I liked them both. Day is by far the easiest to love, strong and beautiful and charming, while Jude starts off a little less likable. Because of that though, I found her journey much more captivating, as there is a real change in her behavior and her thoughts from start to finish. Day’s weakness for his family revealed his vulnerability, which made him all the more lovable. Paired together, the two had a great chemistry that didn’t feel forced.

Also, it needs to be said : yay for no love triangle! Marie Lu proves that you can write a great romance between two characters, with lots of tension, without forcing a third character into the mix. I did think there would be a triangle with Thomas, but the author used him as a mirror of society for June, which I thought was a lot more interesting.

As for the plot and the secrets uncovered, I thought they were fairly predictable as the author gives a lot of hints along the story. This being said, I didn’t feel it took away from my enjoyment : I liked how June and Day uncovered the facts and how it was, in both cases, linked to their personal history.

Legend was a fast-paced novel that I really enjoyed. Government conspiracy, technology, intriguing secondary characters also played a role in getting me hooked to this new series. While this chapter of the story concludes itself, I felt I was only reading the beginning of a bigger story – and I am really looking forward to discovering what comes next for June and Day.

Series Reading Order :

  1. Legend
  2. – to be announced –

Review : Still Life

Still Life by Louise Penny
Pages : 402
Genre : Mystery
Series : Armand Gamache, Book 1
My Rating :

What it’s about :

The community of Three Pines is, to say the least, unprepared when the death of one of its most loved member is discovered. In this small village where no crime of any sort ever happens, most want to believe it was simply an unfortunate accident.

Chief Inspector Gamache is then called to investigate. Trying to find out what really happened in the woods where Jane Neal died, the inspector isn’t one to easily accept the accident theory. Sooner than later, he is determined to find who is responsible, and what exactly happened there.

My Thoughts :

So, I absolutely adored this book in a manner that is almost impossible to explain.

I’ve always enjoyed mystery novels and thrillers. It’s something that comes from watching a lot of those with my mom when I was a kid, or from seeing her read of lot of those, too. Over time though, my interest for this type of books has changed a little, and I’ve found myself looking more for action, intricate plots and complicate schemes rather than the simple whodunit that cozy mysteries often offer. I love when politics and money get thrown into the mix, when science is used to get proofs or when the motives are so dark and twisted that it’s impossible to guess who’s guilty.

Still Life doesn’t fit in this description. It’s a whodunit alright, although I found that there was more to the plot and to the characters than in most cozy I have had the chance to read. Inspector Gamache is determined to find the truth, and it takes him a good measure of human psychology to do so. He watches people and analyzes what he sees with talent. He’s also a likable character with a past that is still unclear, but that aspect doesn’t make him a dark and tortured man. In fact, he’s quite charming and I just loved the glimpse we had of the relationship he has with his wife. I’m certainly hoping we’ll see more of those two along the way.

Gamache isn’t the only one investigating the death of course, and the newest member of his team is Yvette Nichols, a young recruit who knows everything. And by that I mean, of course, that she knows nothing and is a bit of a pain you-know-where. What’s interesting about Nichols is her relationship with authority, or in this case with Gamache. Their dynamic was fun to watch, and I was glad that Gamache wasn’t being manipulated by her attitude.

I’ll only go quickly over the plot to say that it was good. I felt there was a bit of predictability about who did it, but the why and the how were more complicated than that. And so, the novel offers an ending with enough action and twists to keep things interesting.

But what really, really got to me was the setting. This book was like coming home for Christmas, and I don’t know how to explain this feeling since I’ve never exactly lived in a little village like this! Three Pines is located in the French province of Canada, Quebec, and though its inhabitants are mostly English-speaking, the setting was completely recognizable to me. Having grown here, I could see the forest Penny described, the architecture, the roads, the characters… it was all so true to the province I know that I felt absolutely comfortable there.

Penny even touches, very lightly, the situation between English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians in Quebec : this is one touchy subject here, but I thought the author did great job of describing it without advertising a political agenda of her own. Her love for the province is obvious, and so her novel is filled with its beauties and quirks. I loved that, and I think it’s obvious that my not-so-objective review had a lot to do with how fun it was to read a story taking place in a universe I really know.

I already have the next two novels on my TBR pile and I am itching to get to them!

Series Reading Order :

  1. Still Life
  2. A Fatal Grace (or Dead Cold)
  3. The Cruellest Month
  4. A Rule Against Murder
  5. The Brutal Telling
  6. Bury Your Dead
  7. A Trick of the Light

Review : Aftertime

Aftertime by Sophie Littlefield
Pages : 375
Genre : Post-Apocalyptic
Series : Aftertime, Book 1
My Rating :

What it’s about :

After bio-terrorist attacks destroyed important parts of the ecosystem, the government’s plan to make it better failed by turning people into Beaters, creatures who yearn for human flesh. Extremely dangerous, the new disease has left many more dead than alive and forced the survivors to fight for the smallest necessities.

Waking up from a traumatic event with a blurred memory of the recent past, Cass knows only one thing for sure : she has to go back to her daughter Ruthie. Fighting the zombies that took over her world and people’s fear of outsiders, Cass also has her own secrets, one in particular that could get her the wrong kind of attention.

My Thoughts :

Let me tell you something : at the start of the year, I read some really great books that I immediately added to my “Best of 2011” list, thinking that if my reading continued on the same way, I’d have a fantastic reading year. Then school kept me busy and I thought, no problemo, I’d spend the summer reading anyway. I expected it to be full of awesome, but as it turned out, it wasn’t exactly like that.

I have read many good books this summer, even a few great ones, but Aftertime is the first to hit me this way. I loved it, I just couldn’t let go of it. Every time I finished a chapter, all I could do was read the next one. Littlefield created a fantastic character who, all the while being a kick-ass woman, also has plenty of faults. Cass’s life has never been easy, not even before this apocalyptic disease happened : victim of sexual abuse as a teen, she is now a recovering alcoholic who hasn’t made peace with her past yet. She has guilt about being a bad mother all the while wanting to be perfect for her daughter, and I found it impossible not to feel for her. She’s an intricate character that felt real, all the more important in a world ravaged by horrific creatures.

Talking of these creatures, I have to say that the author accomplished something amazing on that aspect. The Beaters aren’t the laughing stock of the story, like zombies often are : instead, they are scary as they should be. They also aren’t the only aspect of this post-apocalyptic universe on which Littlefield focuses. The world has been changed forever and the author really gives a lot of attention to what this results in for the survivors : clans are formed, things that used to be taken for granted become precious goods to be traded, life is an everyday battle with completely different rules.

Each new character Cass meets open a new door for new possible story lines, and I loved that. I don’t know when (and if) Cass will meet again the Covent’s sisters, the Rebuilders, or any of those she met along her way, but each glimpse we get of these different groups is rich with ideas. Every time Cass left some place, I had the distinct impression life continued there, and I could imagine how it was. What I mean is that, even though we’re reading Cass’s story, it didn’t feel like the whole world revolved around her, you know? The author does a great job of describing her world in a realistic manner, making Cass’s story a frightening yet captivating one.

I can’t finish this review without mentioning Smoke, of course. Smoke is the mysterious hot stranger who accompanies Cass for most of her journey. He has secrets of his own, doesn’t reveal too much about himself, but him and Cass, they worked well. I believed it. More than that, I loved that while he is very present through the pages, he isn’t Cass’s main concern. They care for each other but it’s a slow, careful fall. They can be intense and the attraction is there, but Cass doesn’t lose focus from her sole objective : get Ruthie back.

I can’t say enough good things about this book! While it doesn’t reinvent the post-apocalyptic genre or the zombies-type creatures, it definitely exploits these things beautifully to explore the complexity of the human character. If like me you love dystopian universes, post-apocalyptic stories or zombies, then this is one to read. I can’t wait to see what’s next for these characters – I have a feeling I’ll have my nose in book 2 before long!

Series Reading Order :

  1. Aftertime
  2. Rebirth 
  3. Horizon (coming January 24th, 2012)

Novella : Survivors, Aftertime 1.5.