Monday, 9 January 2012

GONE by Michael Grant

Summary: In the blink of an eye. Everyone disappears. GONE. Except for the young. Teens. Middle schoolers. Toddlers. But not one single adult. No teachers, no cops, no doctors, no parents. Just as suddenly, there are no phones, no internet, no television. No way to get help. And no way to figure out what's happened. Hunger threatens. Bullies rule. A sinister creature lurks. Animals are mutating. And the teens themselves are changing, developing new talents--unimaginable, dangerous, deadly powers--that grow stronger by the day. It's a terrifying new world. Sides are being chosen, a fight is shaping up. Townies against rich kids. Bullies against the weak. Powerful against powerless. And time is running out: On your birthday, you disappear just like everyone else... – From

Review: As a fan of the dystopian genre, I had high expectations for Michael Grant’s GONE, the titular novel in his current 6-book series. However, if you’ve already read a stellar dystopian series like Hunger Games, it’s hard not to draw comparisons and determine where Mr. Grant has fallen short: a dragging plot, poor character development, unauthentic dialogue and – most annoying - key thematic elements that are left unaddressed . In general, reactions to this book in our group ranged from absolutely boring to mildly entertained, but proof’s in the pudding when most of our members didn’t bother to finish the book (or even get past the halfway mark).

As outlined in the summary above, the story follows what happens when everyone above the age of 15 disappears and the kids of Perdido Beach are left to fend for themselves. Surrounded by an impenetrable force-field, the older kids - comprised of main characters Sam, Astrid, Quinn and Edilio - do their best to ration food and maintain order in the post-Phase world, struggling against animals that have developed advanced predatory mutations while some of the kids themselves have evolved newly-developed superpowers. Add to the mix a climactic power struggle when the super-powered and morally-flawed prep-schoolers of Coates Academy –led by Caine, their equally charismatic and masochistic leader - descend on the survivors at Perdido Beach, and you’ve got a pretty interesting story (at least on the surface). But then again….

*Spoilers Ahead*

Perhaps my biggest disappointment is the author’s negligence to address two of the most prevalent questions posed throughout the book: 1) Why do kids disappear when they turn 15? What’s so special about that particular age? & 2) What is the sinister creature that lives in the cave and what are its motives? If Mr. Grant had given more development to those two subjects, especially in the last few chapters to build up some semblance of suspense, then maybe I’d have some interest in the following books. In fact, it’s as if the last few chapters lose all the steam the book has worked to build. Mr. Grant has the perfect opportunity to set up a classic cliffhanger ending, one that ideally SHOULD make you want to go and devour the next book (aptly named “Hunger”) immediately; instead, the final scene of the book shows Caine, tired and beaten, shuffling off into the desert with the retreating coyote pack. Bad guys defeated. A decidedly tired and predictable ending.

Whether it was the lack of plot resolution, uninteresting characters, terribly-written dialogue – or a combination of all three - I had only *just* enough interest to finish the book and no particular craving to continue the series.

Bottom Line: Having finished the book three weeks prior to writing this review, I can only say it’ll keep your attention long enough (for most readers) to reach the last page, but there won’t be many moments worth remembering when you’re done. Grade: Solid “C”.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

~Happy New Year everyone! My apologies for the late review. I was graciously allowed to write the review, then didn't get around to it for a month with all of the holiday tasks and festivities. But, ah, it's a new year, time for a fresh start, and all that wonderful goodness. If you are looking for a new year's resolution Goodreads has a great suggestion: I know I will be joining the challenge!~

Summary: "Quentin Coldwater is brillant but miserable. He's a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he's still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless.

Everything change
s when Quentin finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he though it would.

Then, after graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. "

Review: Many sources called this book the "Harry Potter for grown-ups." Well. I'm a grown- up (most days). And I completely disagree. Grossman uses many fantasy motifs that are familiar to everyone, creating the magical Brakebills School from Harry Potter's Hogwarts, Fillory from C.S. Lewis' Narnia, and even copying the idea that 4 human children are needed to rule as Kings and Queens of this mysterious fantasy land. But Grossman's treatment of this material is different from anything I can remember, and certainly a far cry from what I would have expected from a book catalogued as "fantasy." Grossman in a way pokes fun of himself for doing this. It's seems like he's laughing at the material, maybe he's laughing at the whole genre. If he was trying to write a true fantasy book, the type where the underdog struggles against (often mystical) odds to succeed, and the reader cheers him on all the way to the finish, where we are left happy and satisfied that the [fantasy] world is a better place, then Grossman failed. But I don't think Grossman was trying to write the typical fantasy.

The main character, Quentin, slouched and crawled through the book without managing to be called even a "reluctant" hero. He and most of the other characters were portrayed as selfish and bored. It was the kind of entitled malaise that I have seen all over the northeast. Perhaps Grossman was just trying to make the characters flawed humans, like we all are, but it was hard for me to cheer for such unlikable people. The action wasn't much to keep the story going, either. The author told us in a nice, sequential way how the characters progressed through 4 years of school and a period of post-collegiate drinking and orgy binges... but hardly anything happened. Today Quentin went to class and practiced magic. Tomorrow he will practice magic in complete silence. And the next day he will study some more.... I found myself excited to keep reading actually (I confess I couldn't put it down), but I think it's because I kept waiting for the action to happen. The migrating geese storyline was very fresh and interesting. But then the kids turned into foxes and did what any fox in heat would do. Oh yea, that's right, they're not kids. The characters are supposed to be college-aged, but they are often written like whiny teenagers.

It's almost 2/3 of the way through the book before the characters get to enter this mysterious world of Fillory. When they arrive we get more lovely character development, such as, "Jesus! That was a naiad, people! We just saw a river nymph! How cool is that? How cool are we? Huh? F*in Fillory, people!" And then the boys bump chests.

We quickly learn that this magical land is not such a cool place, after all. The characters (sort-of) fight through the bad talking animals, eventually eliminating the main villain. But it's all pretty gray. Right and wrong is not clearly spelled out. And surprise, surprise, the emo kids are not happy at the end. Turns out Grossman's main message is that you can't escape to a fantasy land to find happiness, and doing so may even be dangerous. Quentin didn't even find happiness back in the normal world, poor kid (er, young adult).

Bottom Line: As long as you are not expecting the traditional fairytale, and enjoy modern morality tales that don't need a happy ending, then this is a good pick. Do not put this on your new year's reading list just because it says "Harry Potter for adults." My rating: C+