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Uninvited - Sophie Jordan This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

3.5 stars

I have no doubt that genetic testing will play a much bigger role in our future, and in Uninvited, Sophie Jordan examines the implications of the testing when it’s used to weed out “bad” individuals from society. Uninvited is set in the near future when there is a major uptick in homicide. Scientists discover a gene called HTS that makes carriers prone to violence, and these carriers are responsible for the majority of murders. The solution seems obvious – separate the carriers from the general population and closely monitor them to prevent them from engaging in violence. For Davy, the protagonist, all of this trouble seems worlds away. She’s wealthy and privileged and from a loving family. She attends the best private school and has the best (on paper, anyway) boyfriend. When she is suddenly pulled out of school and informed that she carries the HTS gene, Davy’s world is upended. She is “uninvited” from her posh private school and enrolled in a public school (the horror!), her boyfriend dumps her, and her friends, including her best friend, shun her. Even her powerful father cannot help her.

At her new school, Davy is segregated from the “normal” students, and she attends class in a basement with a handful of other carriers, at least one of whom seems like a genuine sociopath. But for the most part, they seem like typical teenagers, just like Davy. She quickly befriends one of the carriers. and he tells her that she is in danger every waking moment. Sure, she’s harassed by the sociopath, and the teacher/guard who sits outside the gated classroom is a major lech, but I didn’t get the sense of a terrible, ongoing danger. (Not initially, anyway.)

I wish the ethics and impacts of this kind of genetic testing had been explored more in depth, but those issues are shoved to the side when hot Sean struts onto the scene. I kind of groaned when he showed up, because he is your standard YA bad boy with a heart of gold, and what had been gearing up to be an interesting story instantly turned into a predictable romance. The worst part of this was that Davy, who had started to show the first signs of blossoming from her sheltered life, suddenly became a helpless damsel in distress. She was victimized by numerous awful men in numerous awful situations, and every time, Sean swooped in out of nowhere like Batman to rescue her. There is nothing interesting about Sean, and I’ve read this identical character in YA too many times. Davy becomes less interesting whenever Sean shares the page with her, and it’s hard not to roll your eyes at the pair. It’s a shame, because this is otherwise a solid, engaging story.

Note: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Selection Stories: The Prince and The Guard

The Selection Stories: The Prince & the Guard - Kiera Cass I hadn't read anything by Kiera Cass before, so I thought I'd check out the novellas in The Selection Stories. And I have to say - I don't get it. This is just a royal version of The Bachelor, right? Is there anything else I'm missing? The writing is juvenile, and just about every page had something offensive on it.

The Forever Song (Blood of Eden)

The Forever Song - Julie Kagawa The Forever Song ended perfectly, without an ounce of surprise, with every character's fate wrapped up exactly as you'd expect. That's not a complaint, because it was immensely satisfying. However, I had problems with the bloated middle section that was too repetitive.

And can we please get Jackal a starring role in his own series?

Full review to come.

The Martian: A Novel

The Martian - Andy Weir This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

I didn’t need to read more than a couple of lines of the synopsis of The Martian before I knew I had to read this book. I love stories set in space, and in this one, the main character is stranded alone on Mars after his NASA crewmates leave him behind, thinking he’d died in an accident. He has no way to get off the planet and no way to communicate with NASA. His only hope is to find a way to stay alive for several years until the next mission to Mars arrives. This is an amazing set-up, isn’t it? And The Martian had the good fortune to come out around the same time that the film, Gravity, with a similar theme of one person struggling to survive away from Earth, was racking up Oscars.

The story drew me right in. How could this astronaut, Mark Watney, find the means to get oxygen, water, and food on a barren planet? How will he maintain the will to survive alone for years, when the chances for his rescue seem hopeless? If he does manage to make it until the next mission arrives, how will he find them? The Martian is written in the form of Watney’s diary, so we are right there with him as he gets into planning mode. And he IMMEDIATELY gets into this mode, after a thorough assessment of his dire situation. He calculates the amount of water and food he needs for the next few years, down to the liter and calorie. He is trained as an engineer and botanist, so if all goes according to plan, he can maintain his equipment to provide oxygen and water, and he has the ability to grow potatoes.

I initially found all of this fascinating. It reminded me a lot of Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis, in that the author made what could have been very dry facts seem interesting. But after a time, it got to be too much. I assume Andy Weir did an enormous amount of research for this book, because it reads like a step-by-step instruction manual for how to survive on Mars. But that’s where the problems started to set in for me. It began to become a never-ending series of: “This terrible thing X happened, but I fixed it by doing Y.” I started to become unconcerned for Watney, because this guy had an answer for everything.

Very early on – TINY SPOILER HERE – the book switches out of diary mode, and moves to NASA headquarters. Through a major stroke of luck, an employee viewing satellite images discovers that Watney is alive, and unbeknownst to him, they begin to plan a dangerous rescue mission, with a high likelihood for failure. These scenes provided a nice break from the increasing monotony of Watney’s experience on Mars.

Through everything, Watney has an incredibly (and almost unbelievably) positive outlook. He never seemed to despair, and he never seemed very angry. He approached each day with a list of tasks that he methodically checked off. At times, he seemed to find a good deal of humor in his situation. Maybe these are qualities that astronauts need to possess, but it made it difficult to sympathize with his plight.

Despite my few reservations, I would recommend this to any sci-fi fan. There are good reasons why it has over 5k ratings on Goodreads with a nearly 4.40 average.

A Death-Struck Year

A Death-Struck Year - Makiia Lucier This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

Cleo Barry is a normal high-school girl, with normal high-school girl-type concerns in Portland, Oregon in 1918. All of her friends have their post-high school lives figured out: marriage for some, or college, or traveling. But Cleo has "no plan. No dream. No calling." Her parents died when she was young, and her older brother, Jack, and his wife, Lucy, have guardianship of Cleo. Jack and Lucy are headed to San Francisco for six weeks to celebrate their anniversary while Cleo remains behind, presumably safe at her boarding school. The deadly Spanish Influenza has begun to hit cities on the East Coast, but in the early twentieth century, that seemed a world away. But when murmurings of an outbreak in Portland begin, panic breaks out. Schools and churches are shuttered, and all public gatherings are banned. Since Cleo's guardians are not available to care for her, she must remain quarantined in the school until the ban is lifted. Instead, Cleo sneaks out and heads to her empty home.

Cleo finds the meaning in her life she'd been seeking when she joins the Red Cross. Hospitals and medical professionals are stretched thin due to the number of infected people, so volunteers like Cleo are critical. The idea that she could become sick seems not to be a major concern for Cleo, as she is more interested in saving those who can be saved and providing comfort to the dying. It's hard to read a work of historical fiction set in such a terrifying time as this and not think, "What would I have done?" Some people locked themselves away, praying for the epidemic to pass, some abandoned their dying family members, and some, like Cleo, exhibited an enormous amount of bravery. As terrible as the epidemic was, it would no doubt have been much worse without the help of volunteers who risked their lives every day. I appreciated this fictional story of one girl who represented all of those brave volunteers.

Cleo has a very quiet romance with a WWI veteran and medical student named Edmund. It is not the centerpiece of the story, however, and Cleo is allowed to grow and mature and find purpose in her work. Maybe "romance " is too strong a word for this relationship; sweet, affectionate friendship might describe it better. In either case, it doesn't define Cleo, and the lack of the usual, "romance-y" trappings highlight the fact that Cleo needs more than a few kisses to give her life meaning.

Note: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wicked Little Secrets (A Prep School Confidential Novel)

Wicked Little Secrets - Kara Taylor b>This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

Prep School Confidential, the first book in this series and the first book by Kara Taylor, was such a fun and dark surprise. Fun because of Anne, the unforgettable narrator, and dark because the cute cover gave no hints of the evil that awaited Anne at her new boarding school. When her roommate, Isabella, was murdered, Anne made it her mission to unmask the murderer and those responsible for the resulting cover-up. When Prep School Confidential ended, Anne had discovered a much older and completely unrelated conspiracy that she becomes just as determined to solve. In Wicked Little Secrets, Anne investigates the death of a former student, Matthew Weaver, who had ties to the parents of several of her classmates, including her boyfriend.

I was a bit worried that the mystery of Matthew’s death would be less intriguing than Isabella’s death, since it lacked the same sense of urgency and the connection to Anne. But as Anne pushes on, the mystery wraps up more and more of Anne’s classmates, and the danger comes closer to Anne as she gets closer to figuring out whodunit.

There is a love triangle in Wicked Little Secrets, but…wait for it!…it is handled perfectly. Brent is Anne’s classmate and boyfriend, and Anthony is Isabella’s brother with whom she also shares a strong attraction. Both of the relationships feel so real. Neither guy is the ridiculously unbelievable “I’d die for you, and I’ll kill myself if I can’t have you,” type that is found all too often in YA love triangles. I hesitate to even call it a love triangle because that term brings to my mind things like weeping hysteria and collapsing to the floor with grief after a minor tiff. But all of that is absent here. Yes, Anne quarrels with both Brent and Anthony. Yes, she cries. But they all behave like typical teenagers who have identities separate from their romance, and it is not the focal point of the story around which everything else revolves. I cannot adequately express how refreshing this is, and I’d even go so far to say that this is reason alone to read the book.

Anne is one of the most memorable female protagonists I’ve come across in a long time. She’s forceful without being obnoxious. She can be careless and reckless and frustrating, but her heart is in the right place. And she does NOT give up. She’s the kind of girl I would have loved to have been friends with when I was a teenager, even while I was wishing that I could be a little bit more like her.

Note: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Good Luck of Right Now

The Good Luck of Right Now - Matthew Quick If you liked Quick's "The Silver Lining Playbook," you will likely enjoy this story, too. It also features relationships between several damaged people, and I actually preferred The Good Luck of Right Now to SLP.

Untitled (Shatter Me, #3)

Untitled (Shatter Me, #3) - Tahereh Mafi This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

I think I can safely say now that I will not read another book by Tahereh Mafi. Ignite Me was the worst of this series, even though it had stiff competition from Unravel Me. Let’s start off with some of this bizarre narration from Juliette:

“My tongue is dust. My teeth have crumbled away.”
“I am a pile of bones on the floor and no one knows it but me.”
I have no idea what these lines mean, but I think that Mafi has a thing for decaying body parts.

Juliette became more bearable in this book, and if you read these books as they were released, her transformation might make some sense. But I read Unravel Me and Ignite Me back to back, and there was no way to escape how abruptly she changed from a boy-crazy basket case to a calm, cool, collected military commander. It was as though Mafi flicked a switch, and we are supposed to forget every bit of groundwork Mafi laid out for Juliette’s character in the first two books.

As unrealistic as Juliette’s transformation was, it was nowhere near as far-fetched as Warner’s and Adam’s. Warner started out as an unmitigated monster. In Unravel Me, his sociopathic side was dialed back until he was merely an obsessive, stalker-ish, sarcastic creep. In Ignite Me his transformation is complete, as he has turned into a groveling and emotionally manipulative mess. He essentially took over the drama queen role that Juliette filled in Unravel Me. Don’t believe me? Here are a couple of lines from Warner:

“Please” – he’s begging now – “for the love of God, Juliette, I have lost my dignity-”
“Because I am afraid,” he finally says, voice shaking, “that your friendship would be the end of me.”
OK, so now Warner is full of Juliette-type histrionics, but…he was awful in Shatter Me, wasn’t he? Not so fast! Mafi is going to wave her magic wand over all of his sick behavior, giving Warner a chance to explain everything away with a chuckle. When Juliette challenges him, Warner’s poor feelings are hurt because Juliette should have KNOWN that this whackjob was really trying to help her while he was torturing her. Any bit of respect that Juliette managed to get from me by somewhat pulling herself together flew out the window.

It was Adam, though, who really got the shaft in Ignite Me. Mafi was so determined to shove Adam out of the ghastly love triangle that she created that she had him behaving in ways that completely contradict everything about his character. This nice, caring guy became bitter and nasty. Why was there a love triangle in the first place (especially one as foul as this?) Mafi seemed to want to make clear that this Adam is the REAL Adam, and Juliette was too dumb, blind, desperate, or whatever to see his true colors.

Kenji, as usual, is the voice of reason, and his comment about Adam expresses everything I’m thinking about all of the main characters: “He’s so freaking emotional. Everything is such a big deal to him. He can’t just let things go. He can’t just be cool and get on with his life.” And now here I am, letting this series go and moving onto books that don’t glamorize obsessive, abusive relationships.

Fire & Flood

Fire & Flood - Victoria Scott Stop by Inspiring Insomnia to win an ARC of Fire & Flood.

3.5 stars

Tella’s relatively normal life is rocked by the serious and possibly incurable illness of her brother. One night, she finds a mysterious box in her bedroom. Inside is a device with a recording, informing her that she is “invited to be a Contender in the Brimstone Bleed.” It gives the time and location of the first meeting, and it further informs her that “The Brimstone Bleed will last three months…The winning prize will be the Cure.” Everything about the message is mysterious, but Tella latches on to the promise of the Cure. She’s not sure if any of this can be true, but she will try anything to save her brother. Before Tella sneaks out of the house to head to the meeting place (since she knows her parents will stop her), she hears them whispering, “How did they find her?” Clearly, her parents know more about this than she does. But they’re not willing to tell her, and Tella has no time to wait.

Fire & Flood reads much like a The Hunger Games Lite, with a manufactured fight-to-the-finish competition. But in this book, the competitors can choose to remove themselves. That is, I THINK they can. The similarities to THG were strong enough that I kept thinking, “Wait, can they really just walk away?” I was waiting for the ax to fall on these characters, just to make things a bit more exciting. Unlike THG, however, I’m still unsure of the motivations of The Brimstone Bleed organizers. Is it just for entertainment purposes? Is there some deeper meaning to this competition? Why is the Cure being withheld in this manner? I’m hoping these answers will be explored in the sequels, because this feels like a big omission.

The major weakness in Fire & Flood is Tella. When the main character in a book is bland and lacking in charisma, that is usually a deal-breaker. Fortunately, though, Scott created some secondary characters who ably compensate for the weaknesses in Tella. Even better than these characters are the Pandoras, the genetically-engineered animals who are each paired up with a competitor. The Pandoras look like regular animals, but each has unique supernatural abilities that are revealed as the story progresses. The Pandoras were SO interesting that I think I might have enjoyed more of a focus on them, rather than the humans.

Fire & Flood lacks the heart-stopping tension of The Hunger Games, but it’s still an enjoyable read. Now, where can I get a Pandora for myself?

Note: I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.


Alienated - Melissa Landers This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

I labeled Alienated as a science fiction novel, but that is really stretching the meaning of the genre. Yes, there are aliens in this book, but the science is very shallow. What is the point of featuring aliens in a story when they look, talk, and act just like humans? I have always had an intense interest in books and films featuring aliens, so this was a big disappointment.

In Alienated, Cara’s family signs up to be part of the first Earthling and L’eihr student exchange program. This is an idea that had some potential, but in execution, it didn’t make a lot of sense. Why would an advanced civilization send their snotty youths to Earth as their ambassadors, rather than a statesman-type? And by the time communications between two worlds advanced to the point that such a swap could occur, wouldn’t they have more than just a rudimentary understanding of each other? Over and over throughout the book, it’s pointed out how little the two beings know about each other.

Aelyx, the L’eihr sent to live with Cara’s family, is the hottest…”person”…she’s ever seen. I suppose this was necessary because once the inevitable romance kicks in, it might have been a bit of a struggle to picture Cara making out with an alien that looks like E.T. Aelyx, in fact, is SO human-like, and the alien angle is so forced, he might as well have been an exchange student from Europe. And just how exactly is an alien race indistinguishable from humans? Aelyx explains that L’eihr DNA and human DNA is “almost identical,” and the two races must have intermingled at some point in history. The explanation flies in the face of evolution, but that little matter is brushed aside. There is an oddly intense focus on food in Alienated, and I assume that’s done in an effort to highlight the fact that humans and aliens are, in fact, different, since this book has a hard time making that point. We get a lot of information on which human foods Aelyx can tolerate (hardly any) and which he cannot. There are many scenes of him grimacing or threatening to vomit over certain foods. For reasons unknown, this advanced civilization gave no thought to this very basic, very critical need for survival before sending him to Earth.

At one point, Cara asks Aelyx how many intelligent life forms his people had discovered in the universe so far. When he tells her they’ve found around a dozen, she is shocked, because this is BRAND NEW INFORMATION. Humans and L’eihrs have been in contact long enough to set up a student exchange program. How could this not already be information that is known world-wide? If members of an alien race ever make contact with Earth, one of the top ten questions would surely be: How many more of us are out there? It would certainly rank well ahead of: When should we kick off our student exchange problem?

The humans we meet in Alienated mostly fall into one of two categories – most of them are full of hatred and fear of the L’eihrs, and a few fangirl like One Direction fans. The humans form lynch mobs to oust, or maybe even kill, Aelyx, and he needs military presence to keep him safe. The L’eihrs, meanwhile, view humans with contempt and never pass up an opportunity to ridicule them. With so much hatred floating around, who thought it would be a great idea to throw these two groups together? Presumably the leaders of the two worlds are a bit more open-minded, but we never hear from them. Alienated wants to be a commentary on racism and bigotry. Here on Earth, however, bigoted humans can only do so much to attempt to segregate themselves from the people they hate. But if Earthlings and aliens despise each other and will attempt to murder each other when placed in close quarters, the solution is pretty simple – Stay on your own damn planets. Note: I’m making a joke here, and I’m not advocating segregation for humans. (Or aliens, for that matter.) But in this case, it’s made clear that L’eihr is much more scientifically advanced than we are, and I assume their military is, as well. Wouldn’t the leaders of Earth done some work to determine what the reaction to an alien’s presence would be? Since the majority are strongly and violently opposed, why not wait until they’re ready? Otherwise, Aelyx is at risk of getting killed, and Earth may find that L’eihr has aimed their laser blasters at Earth in revenge.

I know this is a lot of criticism, but the science fiction aspect of this book is so weak that I had to point it out. Readers who are more interested in a light romance may enjoy this more.

Unravel Me

Unravel Me - Tahereh Mafi This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

1.5 Stars

Even though I thought Shatter Me was very average, all of the hype around this series had me wanting to read Unravel Me. I snapped it up when it was a $1.99 Nook Book shortly after it was released last year. But it sat unread until I had not choice but to read it after checking out from the library a couple of weeks ago. Many of my GR and Twitter friends are so passionate about this series, so I was hoping that whatever was missing for me in the first book would be found here. Instead, Unravel Me was a major disappointment.

Juliette became nearly intolerable in this book. Nearly every page contains some scene of her screaming, crying, gasping, or hyperventilating. Sometime she is doing all four at once. Every minor setback is a catastrophe of epic proportions, propelling Juliette into a full-on meltdown. How do her companions tolerate her? How are the two most beautiful men in the world (as we’re told repeatedly told) in love with her? What exactly IS her appeal?

Warner, the son of the hilariously self-proclaimed “Supreme Commander,” was awful in Shatter Me. He was abusive and disturbingly obsessed with Juliette, but I was assured by fans of the series that he would redeem himself in this book. However, all I can think is, “This is redemption???” Warner is as creepy and slimy as ever. He’s still intent on possessing Juliette. He steals her journal, reads it, and then refuses to return it. Juliette professes to be mortified, but she is actually thrilled over this invasion of her privacy. Because, you know, it shows how much he cares. Mafi is veering dangerously close to the “Stalkers are sexy” theme with Warner and Juliette. If I could speak to Mafi, I’d want her to know that there is nothing appealing about these kind of actions. Being spied upon is not a sign that someone loves you. Period. I can’t respect Juliette for swooning over this behavior, especially since the much talked-about love scene between these two reads like the childish fantasy of a thirteen-year-old Belieber.

How can this budding romance between Warner and Juliette become even more awful? Easy! Insert sweet, boring Adam to make this the most ghastly love triangle imaginable. I won’t spoil it for those who have not read it yet, but love triangles don’t get any worse than this. Trust me.

I’ve barely mentioned the plot, and that’s because there isn’t much of one. Unravel Me is a long string of Juliette’s meltdowns, interspersed with little bits of action. The only interesting character is Kenji, and I’m wondering if it’s too much to hope that he can put this love triangle out of its misery so that he can be the star of Ignite Me.

Cress (Lunar Chronicles)

Cress - Marissa Meyer This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

I feel sorry for all of you who read the first two books in The Lunar Chronicles as they were published. I was content to just hear how amazing Marissa Meyer’s writing is, content in the knowledge that I would get around to reading them…someday. But when I made these books part of my “Series Catch-Up Challenge” earlier this month, it was time to buckle down. I LOVED Cinder. Even with all of my stinginess, I gave it five stars. I was a little less enthralled with Scarlet, primarily because I didn’t find Scarlet (the character) all that interesting. Her pairing with the brooding Wolf was a double dose of blah. But now we come to Cress, and it blew me away. It was even better than Cinder, and now I’m stuck in the same position as the rest of you, wishing the next book would just get here already.

Even readers unfamiliar with the series will probably surmise that Cress is a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy-tale. I don’t remember much from this fairy-tale beyond “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.” Rapunzel is a beautiful girl with impossibly long hair, locked away in a tower by a wicked woman, until she’s eventually rescued by a handsome prince. Cress takes the role of Rapunzel in this book, and her prison is a satellite orbiting Earth. Her captor is Sybil, the evil henchwoman to the even more evil Queen Levana. Her skill as a hacker has assisted Sybil and Levana in their dominance of Earth, but Cress is conflicted. When Cress gets the chance to help Cinder, Scarlet, Wolf, and Thorn to overthrow the Queen, Cress jumps at the chance. But things quickly go awry, and our merry little band is separated. Scarlet and Wolf were absent for much of the story, but that was not a problem for me. The sweet, guileless Cress and the blunt, but always hilarious Thorne are delightful. (That seems like an old-fashioned word, but it’s the first one that popped into my head while thinking of a way to describe this pair.)

One of the things I loved about Scarlet was the relationship between Kai and Cinder. Of course, there was not much of a relationship in that book, but I loved how Meyer made the discord between them so real. So many times, authors throw some ridiculous obstacle in the path of a couple, they overreact, and then everything is magically fixed. But here, Kai has strong reasons to distrust and even dislike our dear Cinder. But even though his actions endanger Cinder, I couldn’t help feeling a great deal of sympathy and compassion for him. Cinder continues to be a bad-ass; she reminds me a lot of Katniss, and I mean that as a compliment.

The story in Cress seems headed to a huge battle in the final book, Winter, between Earthens and Queen Levana and her minions. That’s what I’m hoping, anyway, because I think I’d be disappointed if we get a Breaking Dawn type of situation, where the lead-up to war just fizzles out. Assuming there IS a battle, I can’t even begin to imagine how it will play out, since the deck seems pretty heavily stacked against Earth.

I’d love to hear from all of you – Did you love Cress (the story and the character) as much as I did? Are you already wondering what part Winter will play in the coming showdown? Who got the funniest lines in this story – Thorne or Iko? And are you hoping that Iko gets some love in Winter?

Into the Still Blue

Into the Still Blue - Veronica Rossi This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

It wasn’t until I was about halfway through Into the Still Blue that I realized how much I disliked the relationship between Aria and Roar. Yes, I know that platonic relationships can exist between gorgeous (and straight) men and women. But it seems like Rossi couldn’t decide whether she wanted to create a legitimate love triangle or whether she wanted to keep Aria and Roar “just friends.” Instead, the pair have a relationship that attempts to straddle the two extremes. I’ll go ahead and call this a “two-thirds love triangle,” because aside from the fact that Aria and Perry have sex, what else distinguishes that relationship from Aria and Roar? There was one scene where Aria looks at Perry and Roar side by side, and she thinks about how “magnificent” they both are. That’s an odd way to think about your platonic best friend, and it highlighted the fact that Aria can barely distinguish the two. If a reader who is unfamiliar with this series was to pick up this book and read a few random passages, I think he/she would have a difficult time picking out who was Aria’s love interest and who was her friend. (Not counting the smoochy scenes, of course.)

Aside from my problems with Roar’s relationship with Aria, I was disappointed with how his grief over Liv sidelined him for most of the story. He was my favorite character in the first two books, but I did not like how his grief was portrayed via mega-doses of sulking and pouting. I loved the lightness and humor he brought to the story, but almost none of that was here. Instead, he was stashed away in a corner in both literal and metaphorical senses, glaring and making sarcastic comments and generally being an ass. I could barely tolerate him in this book, and when he magically transforms back into his old self, it was less than believable.

I loved UTNS, I was less enthralled with with TTEN, and with Into the Still Blue, I found myself wishing they’d just get to the Still Blue already. The skirmishes between Dwellers and Outsiders were becoming tedious and repetitive, and I lost count of how many times a fight ended with a person getting grabbed and then having a gun pointed a his or her head while empty threats were shouted. There was some silliness in the end involving unsurprising plot twists and a death fake-out, and it all added up to a mediocre ending that was able to coast a bit on the good feelings it gave me from the first book.

Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles)

Scarlet - Marissa Meyer Not quite as magical as Cinder, mostly because I just didn't find Scarlet's story quite as interesting.

Cinder: Book One in the Lunar Chronicles

Cinder - Marissa Meyer This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

Cinder is part of my personal “Series Catch-Up” challenge. As many raves as I’ve heard about this book, I was skeptical. A cyborg? A cyborg mechanic, no less? I wasn’t sure if or how I would connect with this story. And honestly, before reading Cinder, I wouldn’t have been able to give you a good definition of cyborg. I probably would have said, “It’s something like a robot, right?” I needn’t have worried, though, because Cinder was a 5 star book for me. As a point of reference, the last two times I rated a book with 5 stars were The Winner’s Curse in October 2013 and Not a Drop to Drink in July 2013. (I think I need to be a bit more generous with my stars.)

One thing that occurred to me after reading Cinder is how tricky writing a fairy-tale retelling must be. Sure, the author has the opportunity to use some popular and beloved plot points. But exactly how much should be used? Just as important, which elements of the fairy tale should be scrapped? And at what point does a retelling seem more like a copy than an original story? I thought Marissa Meyer did a fantastic job retelling Cinderella, placing the main character, a cyborg named Cinder, in a futuristic Beijing. This Cinder has an evil adoptive mother and sister (rather than a stepmother and stepsister), she has attention and the affection of a handsome prince, and she has a secret identity. Best of all, rather then Cinderella’s glass slipper, we have Cinder’s robotic foot. I thought this was such a clever touch, and Meyer worked it into the story in a sweetly familiar but totally fresh way. But she didn’t overdo it. In other words, there are no pumpkins here.

Being a cyborg makes Cinder a second-class citizen, at best. She is fairly accepting of her status, even though her adoptive mother and sister make clear to her that she’s not wanted in the family. Cinder’s only sources of support are her younger sister and her personal droid. But things start to turn around when Prince Kai asks her to repair his droid. Kai flirts with Cinder, and Cinder flirts right back, even though she’s sure Kai would want nothing to do with her if he knew she was not completely human. Meyer does a fantastic job portraying the relationship between Cinder and Kai. This is no insta-love, but rather a slow-burning attraction with some misunderstandings and misconceptions on both ends. Kinda like most real-life relationships. One of those misunderstandings leads Kai to do something to Cinder that seems terrible on its surface. Yet, he remains sympathetic because it’s easy to understand the reasons that led to his decision. This also highlights the fact that Cinder is not another paint-by-numbers romance.

Under the Never Sky

Under the Never Sky  - Veronica Rossi This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

I finally read Under the Never Sky! And at the time that I’m writing this review, I’ve already read Through the Ever Night, and I’ve got Into the Still Blue checked out from the library. I’m making good progress with my Series Catch-Up!

Under the Never Sky is book that had some problems, yet the plot was exciting enough for me to overlook the flaws. Let’s start with Aria, the pod-dwelling Ms. Snooty-Pants who considers Perry, a “Savage,” beneath her notice. I couldn’t waste the energy to get irritated with her, because we readers have been down this path enough to know that Aria might as well have had a flashing sign over head that read, “I will transform into a likable person by the end of this novel.” And how would that transformation occur? Of course, it would involve that smelly Savage she disdains. As for Perry, his sudden attraction to Aria was…unconventional in a YA book, to say the least. But once these two get past their silly and artificial-feeling biases, it’s time to bring in a bit of a romance. Not enough to detract from the exciting adventure in the story, but enough to ensure we don’t get annoyed by their previous sniping.

So, I’m feeling good about this story now that Aria has shaped up. But I kept wondering about those pods. How could the Dwellers be content to live their lives enclosed in a pod, spending their days in artificial realms? They knew “the real world” existed just outside, and they knew that other humans lived there. Even with the dangers present in the outside world, wouldn’t that be preferable to most people?

There were also some important terms that Rossi brushed over with very little explanation. I knew that Aether was something in the sky, and it’s very, very bad. But how and when was it created? And is it any relation to this Unity thing, which sounds like a pleasant word, but in context here, we can tell it is also very, very bad. (As I mentioned above, I just finished Through the Ever Night, and both Aether and Unity were given a paragraph or two of much-needed explanation.)

After all that, this is still a 4 star book for me. The action (cannibals, fighting with Raiders outside Marron’s home), the surprising revelation about Aria, and ROAR! Roar, who is, as far as I’m concerned, the star of the series. All of the angsty, brooding male MC’s in YA need to take some lessons from Roar.