Mini Review: Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Girl in the ArenaLyn is a neo-gladiator’s daughter, through and through. Her mother has made a career out of marrying into the high-profile world of televised blood sport, and the rules of the Gladiator Sports Association are second nature to their family.

Always lend ineffable confidence to the gladiator. Remind him constantly of his victories. And most importantly: Never leave the stadium when your father is dying.

The rules help the family survive, but rules — and the GSA — can also turn against you. When a gifted young fighter kills Lyn’s seventh father, he also captures Lyn’s dowry bracelet, which means she must marry him…

I can’t even remember when I bought my paperback copy of Girl in the Arena. I do know that I picked it up because it came highly recommended by my good friend Angie. It’s been sitting in my TBR pile for YEARS and I’ve carried it from Manila to Singapore when I moved but haven’t had a chance to read it until recently. I’m trying to make more of an effort to read the physical copies in my TBR pile instead of always just reading ebooks. So, I don’t usually like dystopian novels but Girl in the Arena was a really good one. I read it in a span of one day because it kept me absorbed. I found the neo-Gladiator culture and history interesting – like how it all started and why it has such a strong following. I liked Lyn right from the start and I thought her interactions with all of the other characters – her mom, her brother, her best friend Mark and her enemy / potential husband – were great. I really wish Lyn and Uber had more interaction though. I loved the few scenes that they had together but didn’t feel like there was enough of them. There’s a lot that happened in this novel and I kind of felt like the story was spread a little too thin. Maybe if it was a little longer, we could have gotten more depth from the story and also more character development. Like I wanted more information on Lyn’s previous dads and what were her mom’s reasons for marrying them specifically. It wasn’t even mentioned which of the gladiator dads was her brother’s father. So I did enjoy the book overall but just wanted more from it. Surprisingly, Girl in the Arena lingered in my mind days after I finished reading it so the story must have made more of an impression that I initially thought. Recommended for fans of dystopian YA or those who like fiction featuring reality TV.

Other reviews:
See Michelle Read

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

I’m not a big fan of zombies in fiction so I wasn’t initially curious about it but then I started seeing positive reviews from several of the blogs that I follow. I decided to give it a try when I was able to borrow a copy from fellow Filipino book blogger Jason of Taking a Break. Thanks Jason!

Here’s the summary from Isaac Marion’s website:

R is a young man with an existential crisis – he is a zombie. He shuffles through an America destroyed by war, social collapse, and the mindless hunger of his undead comrades, but he craves something more than blood and brains. He can speak just a few grunted syllables, but his inner life is deep, full of wonder and longing. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he has dreams.

After experiencing a teenage boy’s memories while consuming his brain, R makes an unexpected choice that begins a tense, awkward, and strangely sweet relationship with the victim’s human girlfriend. Julie is a blast of color in the otherwise dreary and gray landscape that surrounds R. His decision to protect her will transform not only R, but his fellow Dead, and perhaps their whole lifeless world.

A zombie love story? Pretty unusual, right? I normally think of zombies as gross but I wasn’t even worried about the ick factor because like I said, I kept hearing good things about this novel. I’m glad I picked it up because I really enjoyed Isaac Marion’s writing. I liked how introspective R is as a zombie. Even though he can’t even remember his name and he has a hard time articulating what he wants to say, there are so many complicated thoughts running in his brain. I was also pleasantly surprised at the humor that I found in the first few chapters of the book and I’m a fan of R’s friendship with fellow zombie, M. Considering how limited their speech is, R and M’s conversations still manage to be entertaining. Although I haven’t read that many zombie novels, I think it’s a different approach to be inside a zombie’s head and I feel like that’s something that sets this book apart from other zombie books out there.

Zombies are not usually the heroes of the story – they’re usually not capable of much thought and are meant to be killed off to move the story along. This book is different from the usual zombie lore because it deals with the remaining humanity of zombies. Sure, they’re dead and they physically differ from humans, but they still have feelings. In R’s case, he’s a zombie who doesn’t want to be one. He feels the zombie hunger for human flesh and brains but he doesn’t relish the feeling. And I think he welcomes the change in himself when he consumes a teenage guy’s brain and develops a connection with the guy’s girlfriend, Julie. He suddenly feels the need to protect Julie instead of eat her and that’s how a very unusual friendship starts. Readers get both points of view – from the zombies trapped in their existence to the humans struggling to survive in a world populated by creatures bent on devouring them. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that both parties aren’t happy with the current situation and both Julie and R try to find a way to change things. I think I mostly enjoyed this novel because of R’s character and how unexpectedly profound his thoughts were for a zombie. I recommend this one to fans of zombie novels or dystopian fiction. Or actually I think this is one zombie novel that can be recommended for non-zombie fans like me.

Other reviews:
Taking a Break
Book Harbinger
The Book Smugglers

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

I think I’ve mentioned in the blog before that I’m not a big fan of dystopian books but since so many blogging buddies loved the Chaos Walking trilogy, I decided to give it a try. I received all three books for my birthday this year.

Here’s the summary from Patrick Ness’ website:

Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown.

But Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in a constant, overwhelming, never-ending Noise. There is no privacy. There are no secrets.

Or are there?

Just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd unexpectedly stumbles upon a spot of complete silence.

Which is impossible.

Prentisstown has been lying to him.

And now he’s going to have to run…

I think the UK editions are so pretty, look:

The Knife of Never Letting Go is a very absorbing read. Each chapter end was written in such a way that it encourages you to keep on reading and I think that’s the mark of an excellent writer. Other people warned me that the language might take some getting used to. Todd’s lack of education is clearly reflected in the way he narrates but that didn’t bother me at all. Patrick Ness created a very intriguing world with this trilogy and it reminded me somewhat of Sharon Shinn’s Samaria. Todd was believable as a boy on the cusp of manhood, as innocent as his foster fathers can keep him and clueless about his town’s past. He has no idea of what’s real and what’s not in his world. When he discovers something unexpected, he has no choice but to run, together with his accidental friend, Viola. My favorite character in the entire book is Manchee, Todd’s dog. I feel like if dogs could communicate with their masters, they’d act exactly like Manchee. At first I found him hilarious because he acted the same way as Dug, the talking dog in the Pixar film Up with his constant shouts of “Squirrel!” before running after the smaller animal. Manchee is a steadfast companion and the best friend any boy could ever have.

To be honest, I was hoping I’d love this just as much as my blogging friends did but that didn’t happen (please don’t hate me!). I really liked it but it didn’t make me emotional, which is what other readers experienced. Others had really violent reactions to this book: they cried, they wanted to throw it against a wall, they had to pause before they could continue reading. I feel like I was more of a casual observer and I was kind of detached from the characters instead of being fully engrossed. And I can’t even explain why. There wasn’t anything specific that pulled me out of the story, I just wasn’t sucked in. I’m starting to think that maybe I’m missing the dystopian gene? Why do I end up just liking the post-apocalyptic books that others love? But then again, I loved The Hunger Games and The Giver so maybe it really is just a matter of taste. Like I said, this is a really good book with excellent writing and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of dystopian lit, I just wanted to explain why I didn’t love it. I’m still looking forward to reading the other two books in the trilogy since I already have copies and I am curious about what will happen to Todd and the rest of the characters. I just don’t think I will be as enthusiastic about this series as the rest of the fans are.

Other reviews:
See Michelle Read
One More Page
Good Books and Good Wine
The Crooked Shelf

This book is one of my entries in the Once Upon a Time challenge.

The Hunger Games Trilogy

One of my most anticipated 2010 titles was released last week. Mockingjay, the final installment in The Hunger Games trilogy became available here in the Philippines last August 25. Thanks again to Jason of Taking a Break for my copy. After I got my copy, I went right down to business and read straight through the whole day with occasional breaks when I needed to come up for air. I finished reading in the wee hours of the morning and I had to take some time to absorb everything.

Yesterday, I attended the Philippine Mockingjay Launch, where I met up with folks from both Flips Flipping Pages and Filipinos Goodreads. More on that in a later post. Anyway, since I don’t have reviews of both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire because I read them before I started the blog, I thought I’d review the series as a whole instead of just Mockingjay. So don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this post.

I’m sure most people are familiar with the premise of the first book but in case you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, here’s a summary of The Hunger Games from Suzanne Collins’ website:

Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games.” The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When her sister is chosen by lottery, Katniss steps up to go in her place.

That’s where it all starts, people. The books are set in a post-apocalyptic version of the United States. Each of the twelve districts are required to send two tributes to The Hunger Games, where all of them fight to the death until one victor remains. Sounds brutal? Why yes, it is but not extremely violent or gory. I assure you, my friends, I have a weak stomach when it comes to these things so the fact that I loved reading this series means that it doesn’t rate high on the gruesome scale. Although it is emotionally draining at times. After all, how can any heroine emerge triumphant if she doesn’t encounter difficulties? Katniss is a strong, warrior-type female protagonist and this is one of the reasons why I liked the series so much.

I first found out about The Hunger Games when it was published back in 2008. I didn’t want to read it at first because I’m not a huge fan of dystopian books but since it came highly recommended, I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did. It’s an amazing book and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes to read, regardless of genre preferences. The Hunger Games has crossover appeal for a variety of reasons and it’s the kind of book that most people will enjoy. I know those who haven’t read the books don’t get the hype. I tell them that this series deserves the attention that it’s getting because it’s well-written, unlike other series out there which are popular for reasons still unknown to me.

Both Catching Fire and Mockingjay have the same characteristics that made the first book popular – creative worldbuilding, action-packed plot, believable characters and unpredictable events. Overall, a solid series that I highly recommend. To those who haven’t read these books, I envy you guys because you don’t have to wait for the sequels to come out like the rest of us did.

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher

Ang init! Which means “It’s so hot!” in Filipino. Just had to mention that because it’s really hot nowadays. I can’t believe I’m wishing for the rainy season to start because it’s such a hassle to go around the city when it rains but I think it’s better to have rain than this unbearable heat – high 30s in Celsius (high 90s in Fahrenheit) and very, very humid. You’ll start sweating even right after taking a shower. Now that I have that out of my system, on to the review.

Sapphique is the sequel to Incarceron, which I recently read and reviewed. Warning: This post contains spoilers for Incarceron so if you haven’t read that book, don’t proceed in reading this review. Even the summary has spoilers for the first book.

Here’s the summary from Catherine Fisher’s website:

Finn has escaped from the terrible living Prison of Incarceron, but its memory torments him, because his brother Keiro is still inside. Outside, Claudia insists he must be king, but Finn doubts even his own identity. Is he the lost prince Giles? Or are his memories no more than another construct of his imprisonment? And can you be free if your friends are still captive? Can you be free if your world is frozen in time? Can you be free if you don’t even know who you are? Inside Incarceron, has the crazy sorcerer Rix really found the Glove of Sapphique, the only man the Prison ever loved. Sapphique, whose image fires Incarceron with the desire to escape its own nature. If Keiro steals the glove, will he bring destruction to the world? Inside. Outside. All seeking freedom. Like Sapphique.

If you click on the link here and look up my review of Incarceron, you’ll see that I really enjoyed reading that book. So it should come as no surprise that I had high hopes for its sequel. Sadly, I was disappointed. My friend Moses, who sent me copies of the duology, already mentioned that the sequel isn’t that good but of course, I was still curious. The characters are still the same but Claudia and Finn aren’t the focus of the story anymore. The point of view shifts from Claudia, Finn, Jared to Attia and Keiro. Also, there were some new characters introduced to the story such as Rix.

Finn was able to escape Incarceron but he just went to a different kind of prison. People Outside are still trapped, albeit not in a physical prison, but in lives constricted to following the Protocol. They had to follow the rules governing the seventeenth century and how people lived their lives back then. Outside isn’t the paradise that everyone in Incarceron dreams about. Finn also has to deal with his memory loss. He may be Prince Giles but he doesn’t have much to prove it. Finn’s troubles don’t end there, he also has to worry about his political enemies in court – those who had him sent to Incarceron in the first place and the ones who don’t believe that he really is the lost prince. Claudia has her own set of problems – her father destroyed the Portal and trapped himself in Incarceron and her beloved master Jared’s sickness is getting worse. Meanwhile, Attia and Keiro struggle to find ways to escape and Incarceron grows restless: the prison wants to escape just as much as its inmates.

The changing points of view can be frustrating at times because it would change right after something big happens. A single chapter can contain scenes from various points of view. Like Incarceron, Sapphique is just as fast-paced and also riddled with political intrigue. However, I didn’t feel like the sequel lived up to the first book. I think Charlotte’s comment in my post about Incarceron is applicable to Sapphique:

“There was just so much happening, and I was so busy trying to keep track of things that I never relaxed into it… and I never even finished reading the sequel. It just wasn’t for me. Maybe when I’m older.”

Also, there were a couple of plot threads that were just left hanging. There were too many questions and not enough answers. I was expecting more character development and maybe the shifting narration just wasn’t able to delve deeper into each character. I would still recommend that people who’ve read the first one to read this sequel because you can’t help but be curious and Sapphique would give you closure, so to speak. I can see why others would like this but I echo Charlotte in saying that I guess this just wasn’t for me.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

I’ve been waiting to read Incarceron ever since I first saw it mentioned in Sounis, the LJ community for Megan Whalen Turner fans. I’ve gotten a lot of great recommendations from members of Sounis and the premise of this was really interesting. I’m glad my friend Moses, who lives in Australia, agreed to get the UK paperback editions for me because I like this edition better and at least the sequel, Sapphique, is already out in the UK edition. He read it before passing it on to me and when I asked what he thought of it, he said that it seems like my kind of book.

Here’s the summary from Catherine Fisher’s website, click on the link to see her inspiration for the book:

Imagine a living prison so vast that it contains corridors and forests, cities and seas. Imagine a prisoner with no memory, who is sure he came from Outside, even though the prison has been sealed for centuries and only one man, half real, half legend, has ever escaped.

Imagine a girl in a manor house in a society where time has been forbidden, where everyone is held in a seventeenth century world run by computers, doomed to an arranged marriage that appalls her, tangled in an assassination plot she both dreads and desires.

One inside, one outside

But both imprisoned.

Imagine a war that has hollowed the moon, seven skullrings that contain souls, a flying ship and a wall at the world’s end.

Imagine the unimaginable.

Imagine Incarceron.

After reading the book, I’m still considering how I feel about it. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked it but I’m not sure if it falls under my favorites list. I might give the sequel a try before I decide. Anyway, the premise of Incarceron is interesting. I admit, I’ve already seen a similar premise back when I read The City of Ember so it’s not new but I have to say that Incarceron is much better. I can’t even remember the details of The City of Ember. Plus Incarceron (the prison) is a sentient being and not just a structure built underground with walls to keep people in.

The start of the book is a little confusing because it dives right into the story but give it a couple of chapters and you’ll be properly engaged. The points of view switch from Finn, the boy inside Incarceron who’s convinced he’s from Outside even if he has no memory of it, and Claudia, the Warden of Incarceron’s daughter. I love the world that Catherine Fisher created. Incarceron was created with the goal of letting people live in a contained, perfect world but it backfired. And while there are problems inside the prison, people outside are trapped in a different way – the law requires that they give up modern conveniences and pretend that they’re stuck in the seventeenth century. Both Claudia and Finn think that the other has it better and they both want to know more about the other person’s environment. But the book isn’t just about Claudia and Finn and how they unravel the mysteries of each other’s worlds. As with all the books that I enjoy reading, a huge aspect of my enjoyment rests on the characters and Incarceron doesn’t disappoint. There’s a cold-blooded queen, a spoiled prince, a wise but sickly tutor, a mysterious oathbrother, a slave turned loyal follower and an inmate consumed with the dream to get out.

Incarceron is an action-packed book filled with political intrigue, plot twists and turns, fascinating characters and a unique setting. It can be read on its own but it will leave you wanting more as there are still some plot threads that need to be resolved. I’m glad I have the sequel on hand because I’m interested to see where the story goes.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

I picked up Unwind because it was chosen as our monthly book read in one of my Goodreads groups. I think I wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise because the premise is kind of creepy.

UnwindHere’s a description of what unwinding means from the movie website:

Twenty years from now, life and death in America have changed…

Genetic engineering has shattered the boundaries of science as we know it.

Life expectancy has increased dramatically.

Organ transplant is at an all time high.

But social, medical and welfare resources are stretched to breaking point.

So, the Government comes up with a solution…

It’s called UNWINDING.

Parents can now “Unwind” their troubled teens – a surgical process by which all of a teen’s body parts are harvested for organ donation. And, according to the law, these teens are not dead, they are just living in a “divided state”.

In this world gone mad, if you’re a teenager, you’re a target until your 18th birthday.

Yes, you’d better start running…

And here’s a summary of the book from Neal Shusterman’s website:

In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would “unwind” them. Connor’s parents want to be rid of him because he’s a troublemaker. Risa has no parents and is being unwound to cut orphanage costs. Lev’s unwinding has been planned since his birth, as part of his family’s strict religion. Brought together by chance, and kept together by desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing their lives hang in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthday, they can’t be harmed — but when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad, eighteen seems far, far away.

Sorry for the long descriptions, just wanted to provide a clear background to the story because the concept of unwinding can be a little confusing. At first, I though it was a horror story but although the plot is a little creepy, it’s not scary at all. The discussion for this book has started in my Goodreads group and a lot of us found the premise pretty hard to swallow. Unwinding supposedly was the solution that the Pro-Life and Pro-Choice camps agreed upon to end their war against each other. I can’t believe how they can all think that unwinding and living in a divided state is not equal to killing. I suspended my disbelief and went on to read the story because it does tackle interesting and unusual concepts. I had high hopes for this too because the group members who’ve finished reading the book have given it excellent reviews. However, I was never really sucked in by story and I wasn’t into it. The narrative was sloppy and a little chaotic for me, not because of the multiple points-of-view but because I felt like there wasn’t enough explanations for a lot of situations. I felt like the author kept giving facts about the world he created and just expects you to grasp the concept and believe them. For example, there were several mob scenes during the climax of the book but I didn’t think they were properly motivated. I thought the mob was pretty crazy. I don’t know, I may not be doing a good job of describing how I felt about the book but suffice it to say that I was disappointed.

Again, I’d like to say that maybe this book just wasn’t for me and I can certainly see why other people think it’s great. I’m not really into dystopian books and the ones that I ended up liking were The Hunger Games books. If you’re into dystopian or if the premise looks interesting enough for you, I suggest that you give it a try. I’d love to hear what other people think of the book.

I hope the book for our June monthly reading is a lot better! So far, I’ve been disappointed in the past two books.