The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

If you haven’t read it yet (Seriously?! You haven’t??), let me encourage you to do so.

Hunger Games has a very special place in my heart, right next to Harry Potter and Twilight. Well, maybe above Twilight, below Harry Potter.

Anyway, we all know the movie is coming out for the first book on… (Is that a drum roll I hear? Nope, it’s the pounding anticipation of my heart!) March 23, 2012. And let me tell you, I am SO excited! I’m really worried they won’t follow the book EXACTLY. However, Suzanne Collins did help a lot with the Script writing so I have faith that she will not allow the movie to stray too far away from the original.

Here are my thoughts on Hunger Games.

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins…where it all started. For those who don’t already know, this is a story about a 16-year-old girl named Katniss Everdeen who lives in a dystopian society that requires a boy and girl from each of the 12 districts to fight to the death on live television once a year. She volunteers herself in order to save her little sister, Primrose Everdeen. She is trained and transformed to participate in the Games against her will. She must fight in order to survive and return to her family and best friend Gale, but that also means she must take down her district partner Peeta, whose quiet demeanor and strong spirit sparks her compassion.

First, I am Team Gale. He is the strong best friend that taught Katniss how to hunt and in turn save her family from starvation. I love useful men. Being ridiculously attractive, in my head of course, doesn’t hurt.

Second, everyone I know is Team Peeta. I can understand how his personality wins everyone else over. He is so sweet and self-sacrificing, not to mention a total hopeless romantic.

Don’t take my word for it. You should decide for yourself, that’s half the fun when reading the series.  Katniss is such a strong heroine. If I was put in a fight to the death arena, I’d probably lie down and cry until I was killed or I’d immediately trip and fall on a spear. Either way, I’d be dead. Katniss is such a fierce competitor with the heartbreaking motivation to get back home to the sister she sacrificed herself for. She’s amazing. The only thing that bothered me about Katniss is that she never showed her emotions. She is the type of girl that will never admit she has feelings for someone. I was perturbed at times but that’s what makes the love triangle so juicy. You have NO idea who she likes best.

I tell everyone that the best thing about this book is Suzanne Collin’s writing. She has the most amazing character development. You can practically feel the emotions they feel and you can understand each character because they are explained so well.

Another amazing thing about her writing is the action. I mean only Collin’s genius mind could think of the complexities in the Hunger Games Arena. The relationships between the tributes and the differences between their strengths and weaknesses really make the Games exciting. I LOVED Rue, the very young district 11 tribute, and I loved the delicate yet strong bond between her and Katniss during the fight for their lives. Genius, pure genius.

This novel is a total jaw-dropping, edge-of-your-seat experience. At one point, I found myself crying in public, usually I can abstain myself but it’s THAT good. I loved every minute of it and it called to my “revenge and bloodshed” side. You should definitely succumb to the amazingness that is the Hunger Games, if you haven’t already; and May the Odds be ever in your favor!

Advertisements

The Taker by Alma Katsu

The Taker by Alma Katsu is one of the most intriguing, genuinely interesting, and intoxicating books I’ve read in a long time.

I can’t even begin to explain to you the complexity of this story. First, here is the description:

 True love can last an eternity . . . but immortality comes at a price. . . .

On the midnight shift at a hospital in rural Maine, Dr. Luke Findley is expecting another quiet evening of frostbite and the occasional domestic dispute. But the minute Lanore McIlvrae—Lanny—walks into his ER, she changes his life forever. A mysterious woman with a past and plenty of dark secrets, Lanny is unlike anyone Luke has ever met. He is inexplicably drawn to her . . . despite the fact that she is a murder suspect with a police escort. And as she begins to tell her story, a story of enduring love and consummate betrayal that transcends time and mortality, Luke finds himself utterly captivated.

 

This description doesn’t even scratch the surface of the storyline in this novel. It’s one of the most original and haunting stories I’ve read all year. Thank God I did not judge this book by the US cover (above) because I would have never picked it up. I do not like it all; it reminds me of a forensic thriller cover. Ugh. However, I saw the UK cover (below) first and was immediately intrigued — not to mention the amazing title that ties so well with the true meaning of the book.

The story begins in the present but most of it takes place in the past. Initially, I hated Lanny as a character. She seemed unintelligent by making obviously bad decisions. (Can someone say Stranger Danger?) She is madly, deeply, irrevocably in love with Jonathan, the town’s most eligible bachelor. Lanny sets her sights high regardless of her lower class position. She makes bad choices and ends up in a situation that will potentially humiliate her family so she is sent away. With every hypothetical crossroads, she makes a horrible choice and it leads to terrible things. However, if she wasn’t so decision challenged the story wouldn’t lead to such amazingly awful places. I guess I can forgive her for that purpose.

There is a hypnotic effect with Katsu’s writing. There is a subconscious yearning to know what happens next; yet the reader will patiently wait to see the story unfold. It’s as if the reader is bespelled by Lanny’s story just as much as Lanny is held captive by her predicament. This story goes deep into the psychological consciousness of each character’s clouded motives that slowly unveils to a horrifying realization and continues to affect the outcome of Lanny and Jonathan’s relationship.

I can’t really say much else without ruining it. This is a heartbreaking story about the dangerous and sometimes desperate power of love. It leaves a mark on you, like the invisible scars of a traumatic experience. This story isn’t something I would recommend to everyone. It has almost a sacred power to it, leaving the reader speechless and dumbfounded from the deep, forbidden places you are forced to go.

The sequel, The Reckoning, will be out June 2012.

Black Dagger Brotherhood Series by J.R. Ward

I know that I’m about five to six years late  jumping on the bandwagon for J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, but it was one of those things when I only ever had the opportunity to get the newest one and I wanted to start from the first one. (I HAVE to go in order. How can people read books out of order??) So years pass and I finally started from the beginning, and I’ve read the first three so far: Dark Lover, Lover Eternal, and Lover Awakened.

This series is the story of a Brotherhood of sexy, mysterious vampires chosen to defend the vampire race against the lessers: dangerous, pale creatures that apparently smell like baby powder. Each book follows one of the brothers and it’s so neat because the books build upon each other. So you get way more than an Epilogue, you get the rest of the series to find out what happens to each character.  My favorite thing about the brotherhood is each brother has a different set of issues. I love analyzing the psychology of why people act the way they do, and Ward does a great job of executing well thought out characters. The books are so exciting. I want to devour each page as quickly as possible! I can’t stop reading the series, that’s why I read the first three before I realized I needed to write a review but I figured I could write a “series” review instead of individually.

Dark Lover is the first installment of the series. It follows Wrath the blind king of the Vampire Race on his journey to finally accept his prominent position and start taking care of his people.  I’m not going to lie, it was like every other paranormal romance out there: Bad guy attracted to good girl, does everything in his power to fight being in love then fights to save his love, lots of the sex, the end. I was disappointed. It was so cookie cutter romance, nothing particularly exciting or original. The evil in the series, the lessers, are calculating undead, impotent, light-haired crazies who, quite frankly, are SO boring to follow. I literally skipped the chapters with all the planning and lamenting evil. It detracted from the pace of the book. However, once I start a series I have to keep going to at least the second book.

Lover Eternal, the second book, was a lot more exciting and original. It followed Rhage, a vampire with a monster trapped within him that is unleashed with extreme emotion. (Did I mention that I LOVE the way Ward named all her characters?) His personality was a lot more dynamic, with a good guy charming front but a dark and dangerous secret. Throughout this book, I become more attached to the other brothers: Zsadist, Phury, Tohrment, and Vishous. The interactions between the brothers were exciting because you could tell they cared about each other but their issues kept getting in the way. It was wonderfully tense and dramatic. By this time, I’m hooked. The story is more original and the world around the Brotherhood was completely built. I’m attached to the characters and I HAVE to know what happens to them all.

The third Book, Lover Awakened, is my favorite so far. It follows Zsadist, the most broken and ruined of all the brothers. With his scarred face and hideous past, no one gets close to Zsadist, not even his twin brother Phury whose beauty is still intact. I loved this one; it was the perfect amount of anticipation when it comes to the sex. All of the issues stood in the way and it all made sense. It wasn’t just an “I want you now” type of sex.  It was meaningful, not just emotionally but practically. It was very satisfying read. I love it when things that are broken are redeemed.

J.R. Ward’s writing and world building reminded me a lot of Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander series. Moning would interweave her characters from book to book even into her Fever series.  It’s nice to keep up with such dearly loved characters throughout an author’s career.

I would highly recommend this series to those who enjoy paranormal romance. This series has the perfect amount of naughty and nice and I have a feeling it’s only going to get better.

Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Selene has grown up in a palace on the Nile with her parents, Cleopatra & Mark Antony–the most brilliant, powerful rulers on earth. But the jealous Roman Emperor Octavianus wants Egypt for himself, & when war finally comes, Selene faces the loss of all she’s ever loved. Forced to build a new life in Octavianus’s household in Rome, she finds herself torn between two young men and two possible destinies–until she reaches out to claim her own.

I read Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter because I heard rave reviews about it. It isn’t normally my thing. Don’t get me wrong, I love historical fiction but sometimes it takes too much work to follow, well, HISTORY!  For example, I’m the girl that went to see 300 in theaters (A-MA-ZING, btw) and thought that all 300 men made it out alive and everyone lived happily ever after. (Spoiler: They don’t.) My cinematic experience was probably better than most because I believed that they would live and rooted for them the whole time. It’s the same with Cleopatra’s Moon. I wasn’t familiar with the history behind Cleopatra Selene so I was on edge because I didn’t know what happened to her in real life, but it made it that much more exciting to read as the story unraveled and it was that much more rewarding in the end.

Shecter did such a great job creating Cleopatra Selene’s world. The book was filled with bright, colorful imagery of Ancient Egypt and Rome. Shecter has a way of being historically correct without being boring. I loved how Cleopatra Selene was strong, driven and fought to recover her crown, despite her own desires. I could connect with her because she never gave up even when things didn’t turn out the way she wanted them to and she still kept going. Her loyalty to her mother and her goddess were such admirable qualities.

I really enjoyed reading Selene’s story knowing it is based on historical fact. The story begins when she was seven years old all the way up until she was 16. Shecter did an amazing job of keeping Cleopatra Selene’s subconscious and way of thinking appropriate for her age.This story was so well written and driven by the character relationships. Throughout her captivity, Cleopatra Selene had some sort of tension, whether good or bad, with every character. At any given time, she doesn’t know who’s her enemy, friend or something more. This allowed anticipation and surprise with every interaction and event.  Cleopatra Selene uses the tactics she knows from her mother, the legendary Cleopatra, to create alliances with anyone she can. This ultimately leads to a decision between Juba and Marcellus. Will she follow her heart or fulfill her duty to somehow escape and return to Egypt?

It was so great to see such a strong heroine define her own destiny. Selene’s story will be something I remember for a long time. If anything, this novel should be a testament that you should never give up when times are hard. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

Deliriously In Love

This book is as intoxicating as Amor Deliria Nervosa and as contagious. I could not put it down.

Delirium by Lauren Oliver is a dystopian novel (*yay!*) where everyone lives in fear of catching Amor Deliria Nervosa, what we know as being in love. Everyone has to undergo a procedure in their teens to prevent catching the disease. Lena is a 17 year old girl who can’t wait to get the procedure on her birthday so she can be safe from the disease, until she does the unspeakable; she falls in love.

I’ll admit it, at first I wasn’t sold. I didn’t quite understand a girl who would follow such strict rules and allow someone to mess with her brain that basically makes her emotionless. However, I could somewhat relate to being the good girl. Lena is the goody-two shoes and her best friend, Hana, is the rebellious one. Hana sneaks out to go to forbidden gatherings of invalids (those against the procedure) and rebellious teens at the edge of town, whereas Lena initially disapproves of her actions, but later gives in and starts hanging out with the handsome, mysterious Alex ­­– a guy who “supposedly” has undergone the procedure. So he’s safe, right?

This novel is an echo of forbidden love everywhere. How far will you go? How hard will you fight to be with the one you love? Will you give up everything? and everyone? Not only are you forbidden to be with your significant other, you are forbidden to BE in love. It is treated as a disease where you are quarantined from others for fear it will spread. I really liked this idea. Being in love does have a lot of debilitating symptoms, and I can see how a futuristic society would want to eliminate pesky emotions so that it can run more smoothly. The idea is very believable and to me, if it isn’t believable, then it isn’t worth reading.

Although it was bothersome at times, I liked listening to Lena’s inner dialogue. She is so indecisive, as am I. It was almost suspenseful because you never knew at any given time what she would do. At each crossroads, I didn’t know whether she would follow the rules or follow her heart.

I loved the world Oliver created. I loved that the stakes kept getting higher and higher until Lena was forced to make a drastic and dramatic, last-minute decision. It was certainly a heart-pounding ending. After turning the final page, I wanted to scream “Nooo!” at the top of my lungs with tears streaming down my face. It was that good, people. This book was aptly named because after reading it, I find myself deliriously in love with Lauren Oliver’s story.

The second novel in the series “Pandemonium” by Lauren Oliver comes out March 6, 2012.

The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher

Have you ever seen The Happening directed by M. Night Shyamalan? He is one of my favorite directors and I had to see this new movie when it came out because there was so much hype. There were gruesome scenes of corpses hanging in trees and the audience was forced to watch multiple people kill themselves. It was really thrilling to watch, until it got to the end. So what was the reason for all of this death and destruction? Mother Earth was mad because humans were being mean. I could almost hear the “Wah, Wah, Wah”. The movie turned out to be a total bust even though it had so much potential with the story’s premise.

This was how the Water Wars by Cameron Stracher turned out. It was a complete disappointment because it was so driven by a “Save the Planet” mentality. I mean, I love the planet. I’m all for going green and recycling; however, Stracher made the biggest mistake a writer can make: He told, he didn’t show. Throughout the entire book, Stracher’s personal voice broke through the narrative shoving environmentalism down the throat of readers until we’re all throwing up seaweed. This book left nothing but a bad taste in my mouth.

Water Wars read more like a textbook than an adventure. It had all the components to a good novel: a romance, a controlling society, and a drive to make things right. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t there. It was poor execution. The romance was minimal and there wasn’t any character development. The only hint at a possible relationship was a random kiss, not the good kind of random where you’re talking and he leans in to kiss you, more like totally out of the blue why-did-that-just-happen kiss. To make matters worse characters kept popping in and out of the book, and within a sentence or two, there was a huge “best friend” connection between the main character, Vera, and all of these people who were trying to kill her. It made no sense.

Stracher, I don’t believe you.

Also, Stracher apparently needs to get in touch with teenagers today because Vera read more like a 10-year-old instead of a teen. It was borderline offensive: Does he think all teen girls are like this? Even MORE offensive was other reviewers comparing Water Wars to Hunger Games.  Not even close, sorry. This entire book was a collection of random happenings put together to be an adventure by a lawyer turned YA novelist who wanted to shove environmentalism down all our throats. So do I want a second helping? Not in a million years.

The Death Cure by James Dashner

Note-To-Selph Readers: If you aren’t familiar with the series, it’s about a group of teenagers trapped in a life or death experiment of sorts. There are way too many questions and not enough answers. The Gladers have been fighting for their lives through the first two stages (Books one and two) and are now to the final experiment. But will they participate? or is there a mutiny on the horizon?

I have been waiting so impatiently since The Maze Runner to figure out the purpose of James Dashner’s world. With James Dashner’s final book in the Maze Runner Trilogy, The Death Cure, I am pleased to say it was everything I wanted it to be.

Thomas and the Gladers are in for one last adventure and this time they either get free of WICKED or die trying. The magical pull of this series is how much the reader cares about the characters, so much so that the reader is rooting for them until the very end. There is always that small flicker of hope that drives the characters to freedom.  There was so much action in this book! I would like to pat Dashner on the back for taking such an extreme step in the last book of his series by sacrificing so many characters in this final battle. I was sad to see them go but it was necessary to make this last novel so great.  It made the book so much more believable. I hope boys everywhere are flying to the bookstores for this series. It does have a romance element but it is very minimal. This isn’t a book for romance, that’s for sure, but I don’t think that’s what Dashner wanted it to be. It was just enough romance to keep the interest peaked for potential character relationships.  Plus, they are running for their lives, absolutely NO TIME for romance!

I loved Thomas as a character. He was so believable that I want to pat Dashner on the back again for making such a wonderful well thought-out character. He is so filled with distrust for everybody and everything. (What a normal person would do.) I loved the fact that he wasn’t head over heels in love with Teresea but still interested (What a normal person would do.). I loved that he did his best to protect all the Gladers and was haunted by the deaths of his friends (WHAT A NORMAL PERSON WOULD DO.). I have to say, I was impressed.

There were only a couple of small issues I had. Like I said earlier, people drop like flies in this last book and even though I am attached to the characters, I didn’t cry. Now I ask myself: If I absolutely loved this book and I’m attached to all the characters, why didn’t I cry? It wasn’t because their deaths weren’t moving or shocking because they were. Maybe, I’ve just been drained emotionally lately. Who knows? But it was no fault of Dashner’s.

I would highly recommend this series. It’s a little hard to get into at first if you’re a girl but it is soo worth it. The best thing about the final book in this series is that I am completely satisfied. I have closure. There is nothing worse than a series ending and all the loose ends aren’t tied up, especially a series with so many haunting questions like this one.