Archives for posts with tag: adventure


Like all booksellers, I get this request all the time, “S/He loved The Hunger Games and wants to read something else just like it”. Well there really hasn’t been anything Just Like It. I end up asking what the reader liked about The Hunger Games: was it the adventure, the dystopian society, the romance, the strong characters, and then I recommend books that match. Well now there is officially a book (which will be a trilogy) for fans who want to read a book that has all the components of The Hunger GamesThe Testing, by Joelle Charbonneau (HMH, $17.99, out today), has it all, oppressive centralized government, violence, teens struggling for survival in a test (game) that they don’t fully understand, romance, shattered American landscape, colonies of the society. The only reservation I had while reading The Testing is that it is *almost* too similar, but with a little less of an edge. Cia is smart and resourceful, but not as fierce as Katniss. Tomas is a complex companion, but not as heroic as Gale or as solid as Peeta. The government is oppressive, but not as brutal as Panem, at least not at first. The testing starts with rather boring school-type tests. It’s like reading about someone taking the SATs, which is even worse than actually taking the SATs. Nevertheless, this first book is clearly laying the groundwork for the trilogy and I’m willing to hold out final judgement until reading the rest of the series. And I will say that once the adventure picked up, and we start to see Cia in action, rather than just hear her commentary, I was very engrossed in the story. I don’t yet fully understand what motivates Cia. Katniss wanted to survive. Against all odds. Cia doesn’t seem to want to win. She’s more collaborative. She does want to live, but not necessarily at the expense of others. Despite the horrors of the test, she still wants to pass, which I don’t fully understand. But again, by the end of the first book, I was hooked. Furthermore, although the testing is officially complete, the first book sets up the next two, with a very intriguing twist. Whether you read The Testing because you loved The Hunger Games, or pick it up on its own merits, The Testing contains a solid story that is likely to get even better in the next two installments. To be fair, I was one of those people who didn’t like adventure of The Hunger Games nearly as much as I loved societal complexities and psychological development of Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

Update: I wrote the above after only reading The Testing, because I wanted to write about the book on its own merits. However, I’ve now had a chance to read Independent Study and my opinions have developed. The second volume takes the story in a very different direction than The Hunger Games, as suspected. In order to avoid too many spoilers, here is my general impression rather than a description.

I’ve been a student and an instructor in higher education. I know that sometimes college and university exams can feel like life and death. In Independent Study, they are life and death. I didn’t mean to, but I stayed up until 2 am and read the book in one sitting. There was no good stopping place and the pace was solid enough to compel me to continue reading. Cia is super smart and I like that about her. She is thoughtful, which I like even more. She takes the time to assess situations and come to conclusions. She trusts her instincts and she’s willing to trust herself, even when others doubt her. The fact that she is often right, is believable because, as readers, we see how she carefully and rationally reasons through situations. At no point did I feel like she ‘knew’ something that she shouldn’t know. I like that she’s collaborative. I like that she has morals and ethics. I didn’t like the fact that she seems hung up on a guy that has not proven himself to be worth her time. So far Tomas is too much of a tell rather than show character. Cia loves him, but the story hasn’t given me any reason to understand why. Also, as someone who is incredibly smart and capable, she expresses these random desires for Tomas’s help, even when she’s achieved so much without it. Those moments, often one sentence in an otherwise interesting scene, were jarring and unnecessary. I hope this relationship resolves satisfactorily in the final volume, because right now it seems arbitrary. Cia is a strong enough character to carry Independent Study on her own, and I’m far more interested in learning more about her other classmates than I am about her relationship with Tomas. That relationship really is my only complaint at this point. It seems like romance for the sake of romance, rather than furthering the story, but again I’ll hold out on final judgement until I read the third volume. Overall, I do recommend this trilogy and I’ll be letting customers know that while The Testing might be somewhat similar to The Hunger Games, Independent Study is very much its own story.

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9780547628387Normally, I don’t post reviews on books that aren’t yet available, but I’m going to make an exception here. Yesterday, I discussed Book I in the His Fair Assassins series, Grave Mercy, which tells Ismae’s story. Dark Triumph, which is Book II, overlaps just a bit and we see part of Ismae’s story from Sybella’s point of view (HMH, $17.99). This is an ingenious writing strategy; I was hooked immediately and I enjoyed reading the same scene from two different perspectives. Fast friends, Sybella and Ismae were both novices at the convent of St. Mortain, where they trained as assassins and handmaidens of Death. Dark Triumph is Sybella’s story, and it becomes increasingly apparent that the third novel, Mortal Heart (due 2014), will focus on Annith, a third novice in the convent.

While there are several similarities between Ismae and Sybella — villainous fathers, questioning faith, and romances that develop during journeys across the country side — Sybella has a distinct voice. She is more worldly than Ismae and although Ismae’s body displays the scars of her past life, Sybella’s scars are all internal. As the name suggests, Dark Triumph is darker and in many ways more graphic than Grave Mercy. The subterfuge that Sybella must live is torturous to read about, because of the physical and emotional violence she endures. However, her strength, and eventually her understanding, are admirable. While each book contains its own story and does not end on a cliff hanger, the overarching story of politics, history, and the quest to protect the young duchess of Brittany insure that you will want to start with the first book first, and then will be as anxious as I am to read the final (?) installment. I do feel a certain foreboding, because this can’t end well. We all know what happens to Brittany and France, but I’m certainly starting to appreciate the independent spirit that persists in Brittany today. The series takes advantage of Brittany’s Celtic heritage and introduces a host of interesting old-world gods. Dark Triumph is further engaging because it contains strands of two fairy tales that are closely associated with France. “Blue Beard” was one of nine stories included in Charles Perrault’s 1697 collection, Contes du temps passé (generally known in English as the Tales of Mother Goose). The animal bridegroom story is a familiar motif that is woven throughout literature from the classical period, but appeared under the title “Beauty and the Beast” in a 1740 story by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Vlilleneuve, who was one of the well-known circle of female writers of  fairy tales in 18th century France. Although neither tale overshadows the innovative narrative that LaFevers has created, they demonstrate her engagement with Brittany’s mythology and folklore. Finally, there were a few minor plot points that were unnecessarily repeated from the first book. Nevertheless, I did develop an increasing respect for LaFevers’s writing in this second book. I rescind my apprehensive query about guilty pleasures. These books are good.

If you were looking for such a book there actually is a perfect one out there: soon to be two perfect books and eventually three. Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers is due in April and is the second book in the His Fair Assassin series. One of the HMH reps talked about it at Winter Institute and I was keen to read it even though I hadn’t read the first book. I read the first chapter of Dark Triumph with a sinking heart, because arg (!) I knew immediately I was going to have to go back and read, Grave Mercy, first (HMH, $9.99). While not necessarily a bad thing, I am on a mission to read through all the ARCs I picked up at Winter Institute. Instead, I’ve spent the past couple of days engrossed in LaFevers’s books and can barely get my brain to concentrate on anything else. These books are page-turners, to be sure. I’m still trying to decide if they are good or guilty-pleasure good. But who cares, because they are good and despite occasional anachronisms LaFevers, has clearly done her research, which I always respect.

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In Grave Mercy, Ismae has lived a rather difficult life at the hand of her odious father, who tried to have her expelled from her mother’s womb. He resents that she lived in spite of his efforts. Fortunately this back story is summarized rather quickly and we can move on to the interesting part: when Ismae is transported to the convent of St. Mortain to train as an assassin. Again, LeFevers demonstrates her story telling acumen by giving enough information about Ismae’s time at the convent to provide a flavor of her training and introduce characters who become important in later books, but does not dwell too long on the details of Ismae’s education. Once again the story gets even more interesting when Ismae is sent out on her first assignment. Set in 15th century France, back before it was France, this series is filled with politics, old-world religion, intrigue, adventure, and not a little death. Ismae and the handmaidens of death are sworn to protect the young duchess of Brittany. From whom or what becomes complicated as even the duchess’s closest advisors have their own ideas about the best way to thwart the growing threat of a French invasion, and all the while another threat is already lurking inside the castle walls. Ismae is smart, interesting, and thoughtful. She is caring, but never weak. She is more than what the convent has trained her to be. She is Death’s true daughter.

Rick Riordan is starting to become a household name. His book, The Lightning Thief, was made into a movie and most of our customers are at least familiar with his books. Of his series for middle-grade readers, The Kane Chronicles are my favorite. The two primary characters, Sadie and Carter, are brother and sister, but Carter has grown up traveling with their father, and Sadie lives in London with their mother’s parents. They have met over the years, but don’t really know each other until the beginning of their adventures in The Red Pyramid (Hyperion Books, $9.99). They have such a quirky and genuine dynamic. They bicker and save each other and bicker while saving each other. I laughed out loud several times during their conversations. Unlike Riordan’s other series’, The Kane Chronicles focuses on Egyptian Mythology. Sure sure, he’s taking some artistic license in these books, but it’s obvious that he’s done a tremendous amount of research and I honestly felt like I was learning something new along the way. I thoroughly enjoyed the two strong female and male narrators and also really appreciated the subtle issue of growing up in a mixed-race family that occasionally surfaces in the narrative.

The series is currently in progress; the third volume, The Serpent’s Shadow, is in hardcover. Be careful, though! The covers of this series are almost indistinguishable from Riordan’s Lost Heroes of Olympus series, which is also in progress. Most readers will enjoy both series, but might be confused if they end up with the wrong book!

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