Quantcast

REVIEW: Divergent

divergentAuthor: Veronica Roth

2011, Katherine Tegen Books

Filed under: Fantasy, Young Adult

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 5
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 4

I remember when this book came out, back in 2011. The bookstore I worked at, at the time, got an advance copy and I looked it over briefly. In a dystopian future, a young girl coming of age (Tris) must choose which of five factions she belongs to (and hence which quality she values or sees most in herself): Abengation (selflessness); Candor (honesty); Erudite (intelligence); Dauntless (courage); or Amity (friendliness). But since she’s “Divergent,” this choosing process won’t go smoothly, and later there’s a big fight.

It sounded like the world’s most obvious metaphor for teenage identity crisis, and the cover, featuring a big burning Mockingjay-esque symbol, handily informed you that it was a blatant Hunger Games ripoff. I declined to read it, and in the intervening two and a half years, it’s become the most popular series in the world. The final volume in the trilogy, just released last month, set a record in first-day sales for its publisher, HarperCollins. My question is simple: why is this series so popular?

I’m going to try to figure that out, by reviewing all three Divergent books with an eye toward the greater YA craze. 
Continue reading »

REVIEW: The Fault in Our Stars

fault-in-our-stars[This heart-breaking young adult cancer novel is a C4 Great Read.]

Author: John Green

2012, Dutton Books

Filed under: Literary, Young Adult

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 10

A week ago, I had the urge to read John Green’s phenomenally popular young adult novel about a girl with cancer. I just assumed that we’d already reviewed The Fault in Our Stars, since it’s absolutely everywhere, so when I went to find out who I should borrow it from, I was shocked to find no mention of it anywhere on Chamber Four. So let’s correct that now.

I’ll keep this short, because I don’t imagine I’ll be telling you anything you haven’t already heard, as TFIOS is that rare, pleasurable case where a huge hit lives up to considerable expectations.
Continue reading »

REVIEW: The City of Dreaming Books

Author: Walter Moers

2007, Overlook

Filed Under: Literary, Fantasy, Young Adult

Find it on Goodreads.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 6
Visuals..... 8

I bought this book off a remainders shelf years ago. I’ve since seen and bought other books by Moers on the same shelf. It’s a shame his books aren’t more successful or at least popular; this is a fun, playful book with a whole lot of charm. I suppose Moers’s low profile does make a bit of sense though: this is a book for a very particular reader. Off the top of my head, I could name 2 people I know who would love it, and at least 5 who would hate it.

It’s a thick book full of some big words, but also one of the lightest, most whimsical books I’ve read in a long while–one that places a lot of demands on the reader’s imagination. Readers looking for a dense, literary experience will be let down, as will those looking for a breezy adventure. Readers who like stuff balanced on the fulcrum of that seesaw, however, are in for a treat.

Moers’s world, Zamomia, is not a realistic world by any approximation. It is populated by fantastical dinosaurs, one-eyed goblins, shark-grubs, hog-men, and all sorts of other inventive denizens. The world itself is malleable enough to support the story at hand without needing further description. Dr. Seuss’s characters would be at home here. The City of Dreaming Books takes place in a city called Bookholm (other books explore elsewhere in Zamomia), a city literally built of books, where life revolves entirely around reading, producing, buying, selling, and discussing books.
Continue reading »

REVIEW: The Age of Miracles

Author: Karen Thompson Walker

2012, Random House

Filed Under: Literary, Sci-Fi, Young Adult

Follow it on Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 5
Depth..... 6

There’s been a good deal of hype surrounding this book, due in large part to the millions Walker has reportedly made in advances. Predictably enough, there’s also been a backlash to go with all that buzz.

I’m not as down on The Age of Miracles as some reviewers (the Guardian called it “a sorry and pallid failure”), but the criticisms are justified. At times this is a very good book, and on a sentence level the writing is often beautiful. But for all The Age of Miracles brings in terms of originality, style, and even a little bit of heart, it fails to find congruity between its various parts, and ultimately it’s fairly boring.
Continue reading »

REVIEW: The Tiger Rising

Author: Kate DiCamillo

2006, Candlewick Press

Filed Under: Children’s, Young Adult

Find it on Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 6
Depth..... 9

Rob is a young boy whose mother died of cancer, and whose dad is down on his luck. They live in a motel in backwoods Florida where Rob’s dad works as a janitor for a pittance. When playing out in the woods, Rob finds a mysterious caged tiger. DiCamillo sets this all up with a beaut of an opening paragraph:

That morning, after he discovered the tiger, Rob went and stood under the Kentucky Star Motel sign and waited for the school bus just like it was any other day. The Kentucky Star sign was composed of a yellow neon star that rose and fell over a piece of blue neon in the shape of the state of Kentucky. Rob liked the sign; he harbored a dim but a abiding notion that it would bring him good luck.

The writing is strong, though not overly complex. “Abiding” may be the biggest word in the book, which is targeted for readers on the younger side of young adult. It’s not a kiddy book by any means however. Tiger Rising deals with some pretty heavy themes: death, mourning, race and class, bullying, infidelity–as well as maturity, loyalty, and foregiveness.
Continue reading »

REVIEW: The Infernals

Author: John Connolly

2011 Atria Books

Filed Under: Young Adult, Humor, Fantasy, Horror

Find it on Goodreads.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 8

A direct follow-up to Connolly’s wonderful 2009 book, The Gates, Infernals delivers everything you could want from a sequel. It’s another great adventure, and delivers all the wacky characters and narratorial humor that made the first book so exceptional.

After helping to save the world from an invasion from Hell, Samuel Johnson, with his trusty dog Boswell by his side, is trying to get back to a normal life. It doesn’t last long. The leader of the failed invasion, Mrs. Abernathy (formerly the demon Ba’al before he was trapped in the possessed body of Samuel’s elderly neighbor), seethes in Hell. The Great Malevolence–Satan–has fallen into a weepy melancholy following the defeat, leaving the underworld open to a tumultuous civil war.

Abernathy, in an attempt to restore her standing as Hell’s #2 demon, as well as save her own hide by preventing the traitorous demon Abignor from usurping rule, manages to open a small portal to Earth long enough to capture poor Samuel and Boswell. They will be an offering to restore the spirits of The Great Malevolence.


Continue reading »

REVIEW: The Apothecary

Author: Maile Meloy

2011, Putnam Juvenile

Filed under: Thriller, Fantasy, Young Adult

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 6

It’s 1952. Janie is a regular 14-year-old American girl, living in Los Angeles… until she discovers that her parents are Communists, about to be arrested for un-American activities. The family flees to London.

Once there, Janie starts flirting with a boy in her class named Benjamin, and they embark on a mission to spy on a man that Benjamin thinks is a Russian agent. Only, the man he meets is Benjamin’s own father, the apothecary of the title.

From there, Benjamin and Janie begin a fairly typical young-adult-novel adventure: they follow clues, use newfound powers, and become embroiled in a massive conflict with no less than the world at stake.

It’s a familiar arc, and while Meloy writes it well, it’s a relatively forgettable novel. Except, that is, for one aspect, a facet of the mythos of The Apothecary that’s fairly original, but also quite uncomfortable. (Minor spoilers ahead. If you want to go in fresh, skip the rest of this. If you like Harry Potter and the Lemony Snicket books, you’ll probably like this one, as well.)
Continue reading »

REVIEW: Goliath

Author: Scott Westerfeld

2011, Simon Pulse

Filed Under: Young Adult, Sci-Fi, Historical.

Get the book.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 5

Goliath closes the YA trilogy Westerfeld opened barely two years ago with Leviathan (if you want to get caught up, you can read my review of Leviathan here, and my review of the middle book, Behemoth, here). Like its predecessors, Goliath is a fun adventure set in a creative alternate history, where World War One is a fierce battle between the steampunk Clankers (Germany and friends) and the Darwinists (headed by Britain) whose army consists of giant biological weapons created by genetically modifying lifeforms–the titular Leviathan being an armored airship supported by a flying whale.

Deryn, the girl posing as a midshipman in the British Air Navy, and Alek, the Hapsberg prince hoping to find a means of peace, continue their adventure right where things left off. There’s plenty of spectacle in this book, and even more historical figures make their way onto the pages (Nikola Tesla, William Randolph Hearst, Pancho Villa, and others).
Continue reading »

REVIEW: Salamandastron

Author: Brian Jaques

1994, Ace Books

Filed Under: Fantasy, Young Adult.

Get a copy at Powell’s.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 6

The Redwall books were among my favorites when I was actually a young adult reading YA books. Salamandastron stands out in my memory because it was the first I ever read. I remember first seeing the cover with the badger holding the spear, and just lighting up. I was a pudgy little dork who really liked Watership Down and the Final Fantasy games, so this book screamed awesomeness to me. I wasn’t let down, and I devoured the rest of Jacques’s books with ever-increasing voracity.

I still have all my Redwall books. The covers are worn, the pages yellow and tattered. They’ve survived moves from apartment to apartment, been lent out and miraculously returned more than once. I’ve always said I would revisit them at some point but never did. When Brian Jacques died in February, I finally decided to return to them. My initial thought was to hit the three core books (RedwallMossflowerMattimeo), but then I saw that cover again and knew it had to be Salamandastron. Just look at that badger –he’s not some goofy Looney Toon. He stands there in armor, holding his pike and helmet and seeming, well, somber.
Continue reading »

REVIEW: Behemoth

Author: Scott Westerfeld

2010, Simon Pulse

Filed Under: Young Adult, Historical, Sci-Fi, Fantasy

Get a copy at Powell’s.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 6
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 6
Illustrations... 8

My biggest gripe with Westerfeld’s Leviathan was that it was too much a set-up for a trilogy and not as satisfying a standalone story as the lead entry in a series ought to be. Seeing as Behemoth is the second entry of said planned trilogy, that problem is no longer as glaring. Still, this too acts as a build up for a larger conflict, but rather than leaving us at the precipice, it–as a good middle segment should–aligns the plot’s working pieces then sets things in motions for a hefty conflict in book three. All that aside, this novel features all the aspects that made the first book intriguing, as well as an arguably tighter story arc.

Behemoth picks up with Deryn, the girl posing as a male in order to be British midshipman, and Alek, the Hapsburg prince on the lam, aboard the great flying whale dirigible following the escape at the end of Leviathan. They head for Istanbul, where the majority of the story unfolds.

(I gave a breakdown of the basic conceits of the series in my review of Leviathan, so if you haven’t read it go check out that first–but in brief, this is a steampunk retelling of World War One, where the machinist “Clanker” Eastern Europeans are in conflict with the “Darwinist” Western Europeans’ army, which is built around giant creatures created by manipulating evolution into complex living vehicles and biological weapons. So by whale dirigible, I mean it’s literally a huge, floating, armored whale.) 
Continue reading »