The One by Keira Cass

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Dystopia
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: May 6th 2014

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Break my heart. Break it a thousand times if you like. It was only ever yours to break anyway.”

With only four girls the end of the competition draws near. When America was selected she never dreamed that she’d want to win the selection, much less Maxon’s heart. Now that she’s in love she has to play the game more seriously, but being a good princess is difficult when she wants to right every injustice she sees. Will she be able to hold on to Maxon if she causes more problems?

Just like The Selection and The Elite, The One is impossible not to enjoy despite several things that could have been done better.

America still really doesn’t grow as a character. She doesn’t learn anything and all her problems solve themselves. It’s hard to root for America when every decision she makes is so obviously stupid. Worse is that a few characters shift in personality to make them sympathetic, which is maybe a little better than the big baddies just being evil out of malice.

The ending is what really crushed the series down to average. It was rushed. Not quite on the level of some other awful endings (I’m looking at you, Mockingjay) but it’s definitely not satisfactory. The tension between Maxon and America and the threat of Maxon’s father are all solved by a sudden disaster. America has never been particularly good to Maxon but that’s okay because love means you should let yourself be walked all over.

The caste system and the rebels are left in a sort of vague probably fine state. In less than thirty pages the big baddies the book was building up to are mostly dealt with. It’s never entirely clarified, but it’s okay because we get a happy ending. A lot of the space in the middle that was used to drag the story out should have been dedicated to the ending.

The biggest issue that holds this novel back is that most of the problems between America, Aspen and Maxon could be solved in one conversation. If America would shut up and listen to Aspen, or stop fabricating things in her head about Maxon then there would be no plot. If the three of them sat down and had a two-page discussion then the book would be over. It’s ridiculous how long miscommunication is the main plot issue because why can’t people who are in love just talk to each other for once.

America is an unlikable protagonist. The love triangle was unnecessary. The plot with the rebels was beyond rushed, just as the ending itself was. But I enjoyed it. There was action, pain, and romance. Perhaps this book is a bit of a guilty pleasure but if nothing else Cass has told and exciting story (though it might have fit in a single book without the added fluff).

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The Hunger Games

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The Elite by Keira Cass

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Dystopia
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: April 23rd 2013

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“It turns out I’m absolutely terrible at staying away from you. It’s a very serious problem.”

The competition is more vicious than ever with only six girls left. America knows that she can easily win Maxon’s heart, but she’s not so certain that she can handle the role of princess. The fact that Aspen, her childhood sweetheart, is working at the palace only complicates things further. America has to make a decision and she’s running out of time.

The Elite is a fast-paced roller coaster of emotions. Once you get started it’s impossible to stop reading. There are so many huge events in this book but there is one that actually shocks me and really stood out. It was heartwrenching. The Selection created a world and characters, The Elite gives their actions consequences and adds weight to the series.

Of course, most books aren’t perfect. I find myself still at odds with the love triangle in this series. It feels like an immense waste of time. The plot was thrilling enough without Aspen. The Selection, the rebels, America deciding if she can handle the responsibility – brilliant. America stringing both Aspen and Maxon along for the entire book? Not so brilliant. One chapter she’s swooning over Maxon certain she’ll be his, the next she’s in love with Aspen again because he’s all she can trust. It’s frustrating.

The love triangle also makes America far less likeable as a character. While it’s reasonable for her to be enraged about her caste or about lower castes being ill-treated it isn’t the same about whining because two boys love her nearly unconditionally. The number of times America does vastly hurtful and unacceptable things and is almost immediately forgiven is ridiculous. Aspen should have been left at the beginning of the first book. America would have been more sympathetic and the plot would have been much stronger.

Cass has created a wonderfully interesting world, several fantastic characters and the Bachelorette meets Hunger Games style plot is a stroke of genius. Unfortunately, America’s indecision – while it doesn’t destroy the book – keeps it from being as strong as it might have been. Love triangles can be done well, this one just isn’t. No one changes who they love on a daily basis, it makes America seem shallow and lacking the intelligence she’s meant to have.

I immensely enjoyed this book, but it wasn’t quite as strong as the first. Hopefully in the next book America makes up her mind and gets back to being a character readers can root for.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The Hunger Games

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Genres: Horror, Dystopia
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: January 14th 2014

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“…you can’t save people from the world. There’s nowhere else to take them.”

Melanie loves classes, especially when her favourite teacher is there. She likes school days much better than the weekends when she has to take chemical showers and spend all day in her cell. Whenever soldiers come to strap her into her wheelchair for transit she tries to be friendly. She tells them that she won’t bite, but for some reason, no one ever laughs.

Though the blurb teases mystery, there is none. Melanie’s world becomes very clear within the first twenty pages and you aren’t left guessing as to why her childhood is playing out so strangely. This was, I feel, the biggest loss to the book. Dragging out Melanie’s and the reader’s ignorance might have made for a more intriguing start to the novel. Instead, it’s very obvious what’s going on and it makes you wonder why the blurb bothered to be vague at all.

Onto the positives, The Girl with All the Gifts is an has an incredibly unique plot, even if the world feels done before. The first half of the book is absolutely brilliant. The layout of Melanie’s small world and the horrors that reside within it will keep readers on their toes. As the plot continues on though it gets to be more stock. Tropes and scenes from every thriller begin to fall in and a lot of the tension is lost to predictability.

The book is more interesting when it’s examining the “hungries” and what they are. Caldwell’s chapters are particularly interesting for this reason. The characters (particularly Melanie) grow on you and make you love them. It’s heartbreaking. The ending is successfully bittersweet and hopeful. The tone and ideas in the ending are very clever and will make readers think.

But it’s not enough. Far too many pages are spent on walking and pointless travel filler with no development. The book never felt frightening or shocking once outside of the cellblock. Well written characters and several creative ideas were not enough.

Carey should have focused fully on the aspects of his story that made it unique, instead we get a novel which reads, for the most part, like standard zombie/apocalypse thriller with the nagging thought that it could have been more.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The Walking Dead

The Selection by Kiera Cass

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy, Dystopian
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Date: April 24th 2012

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“True love is usually the most inconvenient kind.”

Thirty-five girls are given the chance to woo Prince Maxon and be the future queen. America Singer is nowhere near as excited as the other thirty-four. She never wanted to be selected. America knows who she’s in love with and it certainly isn’t some stuffy prince. As the selection continues, however, America begins to discover that Maxon isn’t at all what she thought. But is there even time for romance to develop when the rebel attacks on the palace are becoming more frequent and effective?

The Selection was an absolute joy to read. Cass builds a unique and complex world simply. She manages to slowly insert new details without making anything convoluted or ridiculous. Often worldbuilding is too heavily concentrated in the beginning of the book, or worse, too sparse for the world to make sense. Cass has neither of these problems. Illéa is interesting and rich without weighing the book down. The caste system is particularly interesting to learn about.

Prince Maxon and America are interesting characters. They do veer to the goody-two-shoes side a little heavily, but it’s perfect for a lighthearted read. They’re also fairly simple, and at times America is frustrating. Unfortunately, most of the other characters have very few traits. Celeste is a classic faux-sweet mean girl. Marlee is friendly (although there might be something deeper hinted at), Tiny is ladylike and that’s just the girls who are more in the main cast. Several of the girls don’t get any characterization at all. Thirty-five was an ambitious number and readers barely ever hear about a majority of the girls. It’s a blessing that they’ve been cut down so that Cass will have a chance to further develop the final few. The worst character, by far, is Aspen.

Of course, there had to be a love-triangle. The love-triangle could have easily been dropped from this book. It was good to see America dealing with heartbreak and conflicting feelings after the initial break-up but having it continue and resurface just makes her hard to sympathize with. Aspen himself is a classic broody boy. He loves America, and she loves him. This is not enough. Aspen sabotages himself by being entirely ridiculous and then changes his mind. The book would have been far better off if America had let him go and if he had stayed gone.

The issues are mostly nitpicking. The Selection is one of those books you’ll breeze through, not realizing how many pages you’ve devoured. It’s more of a marshmallow than a fondue. It’s light, fluffy and easily enjoyable, but not a book you should look to for any real drama or weight.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Only Ever Yours

Fairest by Marissa Meyer

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Dystopian
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: January 27th 2015

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“She cried for the girl who had never belonged. A girl who tried so hard, harder than anyone else, and still never had anything to show for it.”

A prequel to the other stories in The Lunar Chronicles, Fairest dives into the backstory of Lunar Queen Levana. A story of love, war and heartbreak, Queen Levana finally receives the depth that any good villain deserves.

There is a saying in writing that “every villain is the hero of their own story”. Now there is some argument about whether or not this is always true, but it certainly is in the case of Levana. She wants what is best for her country, and is striving for it. She is interested in her country, unlike the rest of her family. She is willing to devote herself to what she believes is the greater good.

This is not to say that Levana is entirely sympathetic. She is, at least to some degree, mad. At first she’s desperate for affection, desperate to feel beautiful, which is something anyone can feel sympathy for. However when she uses her lunar gift to force herself on a man things start to go downhill. She begins the novel a bright young girl, and slowly devolves into a disgusting, self-loathing woman worthy of the contempt readers will feel for her during the rest of the series.

It definitely adds more depth to the series. It lets us get into the villain’s head, understand her, maybe pity her but not love her. It is made very clear that she is wicked (something she even thinks of herself on occasion) even if she was not born that way. The book is brilliant, even without a protagonist the reader wants to support. In fact an absolutely despicable protagonist is what makes this short book so wonderful.

Like all Meyer’s books it’s beautifully written, and worth reading before the final installment.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Cinder

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

Genres: Young Adult, Mystery, Dystopian
Publisher: Quercus
Publication Date: July 3rd 2014

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“I’m a good girl. I am pretty. I am always happy-go-lucky.”

It is freida’s final year in the school. This year will decide how her life ends up, and it’s going to be even harder to deal with without her best friend. Despite years of friendship isabel and freida are growing apart. Not only that, but isabel seems to be losing interest in keeping up her appearances. frieda isn’t quite sure how she’ll handle things but when the boys show up she thinks that maybe someone can save her after all.

Dystopia has developed a very specific image in recent young adult literature, and I’m glad to say that this book breaks free from those expectations. It breaks free from a chosen one rising up against the oppressors and focuses instead on building it’s world and showing the effects that this society has on it’s inhabitants. Despite the length of the novel the world is fantastically built, at least the parts we get to see.

The writing style is fast-paced, exciting, suspenseful and very unique. None of the girls’ names are capitalized, even when starting a sentence. This is never mentioned in the book proper, but it does add to the feeling of their position as accessories to men.  The book is stuck between high school drama and the horror of this society where girls are raised to please men until they’re terminated at a certain age. It’s a brilliant contrast.

The characters are all very catty and similar, which is to be expected in this sort of setting. The main character, frieda, is at the best of times infuriating. I got second-hand embarrassment so badly I had to put the book down at times, but that’s not really a bad thing.

The book is a little heavy-handed with it’s depiction of misogyny. It’s clearly affecting the female characters poorly, but it doesn’t seem to bother any of the few male characters. In fact this society seems to be working out great for most of them. While the end of the book was deliciously depressing, I was left feeling hungry for SOME sort of larger break in their society.

It was too enjoyable and poignant to knock down a star, but it definitely feels a little unfinished, if only because I’ve grown accustomed to happy endings.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: The Handmaid’s Tale

Maximum Ride Forever by James Patterson

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Romance, Dystopian
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: May 18th 2015

1 OUT OF 5 STARS

“I know why you’re here, and I know what you want. You want to know what really happened. You want to know the truth.”

Max and her flock are forced to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, and it’s not only the weirdly mutated wildlife they have to worry about. Tension is splitting the flock, Fang must face his destiny, and Angel wants to claim hers. Will the flock be able to save the world if they can’t even save each other?

This series has been on a steady decline since the fourth book in the series. This is the ninth. Patterson himself had claimed the series was over, but he cannot bear to actually give us such mercy. his characters are twisted into caricatures of themselves. Max is selfish, stubborn and pathetic. Angel is exceptionally easy to hate when she’s meant to come out a hero. The story commits to nothing. No death, or disaster can actually tug on the heart strings because this series can’t decide where it wants to go. There’s too much going on and it’s hard as a reader to care about any of it when even the end of the world will not end this series.

The flock, which used to be the heart of the books, is hardly there at all. They pop in, say one or two lines, then vanish for another twenty chapters. The needlessly thrown in love triangles, these books have tried everything to remain relevant. I loved them once, and while nostalgia may still be enough for some readers, I cannot say that this book is good. It’s a husk of what it once was. The ending ties up similarly to Mockingjay, feeling rushed and weak. I can’t imagine why it would be rushed because no one was waiting for this book. It was meant to be over.

Series should be allowed to die with dignity. Harry Potter knew when to end, but Maximum Ride is parading it’s already decaying corpse down the aisles of bookstores hoping someone will still think it’s relevant. If you’re a fan of the series it’s hard to resist picking it up, but it’s sad to see something so far out of it’s glory days continue when it should have been put out to pasture long ago.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Hush, Hush

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Dystopia, Romance
Publisher: Orion
Publication Date: February 10th 2015

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Rise, red as the dawn.”

Reds live to work, fight and serve for the Silvers. The Silvers have an enormous array of abilities, from healing to controlling the elements to super strength, and are like Gods to the powerless Reds. Seventeen year old Mare Barrow might be the girl to change the tide. Mare finds herself working in the palace, serving the king and soon discovers that all Reds might not be as powerless as the Silvers want to believe.

Red Queen delivers exactly what you’d expect, but it still can’t help but feel derivative. This is partially the fault of the dystopian genre driving itself into a rut of similar stories and characters. There are elements from The Hunger Games, Throne of Glass, Divergent and so many more that it feels difficult to find ANYTHING unique about the book.

Aveyard does have an interesting world but she went a little too broad with the range of powers the Silvers could possess and even confuses herself once or twice forgetting the difference between skin/blood healers and so on. Still there is clearly a lot of detail put into the houses and their relation to one another and it’s easy to appreciate.

The most disappointing thing in the novel is by far Mare. She was so disappointing. Putting the love triangle (square perhaps?) aside she was so typical. A rough girl who cares for her family, a tomboy, quick with her tongue. She fell very much into the Katniss Everdeen mold. There wouldn’t be a problem if she was deeper but she just feels like a very flat Katniss. Then there’s Cal who’s mood and interests seem to sway depending on what will push the story along better.

The redeeming factor is definitely the villains, they’re interesting and full of surprises, along with the few interesting world aspects and the ending, is enough to make this book pleasantly average.

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Read this if you’re a fan of: Throne of Glass

The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons

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Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Dystopian, Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication Date: February 10th, 2015

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“I’d rather be a wolf than a girl any day.”

Set in a world where women are property bought and sold for breeding, our protagonist is ripped from freedom and tossed into the world she’s tried so hard to avoid. The novel touches on themes of family, sacrifice, friendship and bravery.

Above all this novel shines with it’s world building. Every detail is thought out and it seems almost a shame that the world is locked into a single novel. Magnates, Pips, Watchers, Virulents, the book introduces a whole new societal structure and manages to explain it well enough that I never felt confused and managed to easily submerge myself in this fictional world.

There are quite a few well written female characters, though it is a shame that “strong female character” has again been confused for a girl who fights furiously and viciously. There’s nothing wrong with this sort of girl, but every softer, more traditionally feminine female is sort of looked down on. This can be put on the protagonists view of strength as it’s from her perspective but it’s a shame to see girls who are raped or who want to dream of something different tossed aside like they’re worthless.

It was an impressive novel. It lost a few chances to make more powerful statements on rape and sort of fell into the “hide your gays” trope with a few scenes that seemed to hint something but were never fully tied up. Nevertheless it was a breath of fresh air in the genre. Romance was not shoved needlessly into the spotlight (here’s looking at you Divergent), there is a strong focus on family love instead of romantic love, and all in all it’s a fast paced novel that feels tight and well-tied up in the end.

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READ THIS IF YOU’RE A FAN OF: UNWIND

Four by Veronica Roth

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Genres: Young Adult, Dystopian, Science Fiction, Short Stories
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: July 8th, 2014

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“I am not Tobias Eaton, not anymore, never again. I am Dauntless.”

The mysterious Dauntless boy, love interest to our heroine. His story is finally fully revealed through four short stories and three scenes retelling parts of Divergent from his point of view.

It’s an enjoyable read, but a quick one and I feel like nothing is actually gained from reading it. We know Four’s story already from the series, this reveals it in more detail but really adds nothing important. We know Four and other than his childhood he’s not that much different from Tris. So similar that their POV narrations in Allegiant sort of blurred together. At this point it really feels like the series is beating you over the head with it’s themes.

I enjoyed it, and I can see people becoming absolutely obsessed with this book. It’s the sort of series that will easily find people to love it (read: Hunger Games) but ultimately having finished the series I feel like it has been just that. Enjoyable but not interesting.

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READ THIS IF YOU’RE A FAN OF: DIVERGENT