Backlist Bonus: The Dark and Hollow Places

8535273by Carrie Ryan
YA Dystopian
2 of 5 stars

This is much better than the previous book but Gabry’s sister Annah still has a bit of an issue taking charge of her own life. The twins were separated in the Forest of Hands and Teeth and now that the Dark City has largely fallen to the Horde, Annah is alone waiting for Elias to come back for her.

Annah considers herself the ugly twin because of the barbed wire scars across her face, and much of her story is spent lamenting her appearance and how it will prevent anyone from having feelings for her. A bit much to worry about in a world of the undead where it’s difficult to survive, but priorities. But before Elias returns, Annah meets someone new: Catcher, tied to everyone and everything she wants to forget about the past but who sees more than her scars or “Gabry’s sister” when he looks at her.

This is much darker and bleaker than the previous books and really draws you into the depression humanity feels, knowing it’s on the brink of obliteration. We see more of the shattered infrastructure of America, and the group feels more and more desperation to escape—despite the fact that a safe place to escape to might not exist. Aside from a haphazard scheme at the end (which completely departs from reality) this one is better paced and written than its predecessor. Just wasn’t exactly fun to read.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Dark and Hollow Places is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion – The only zombie book I enjoyed, probably because there’s more wry humor than dark introspection about Earth’s fate. “R” lost most of his memories when he became undead, but Julie stirs something in him he thought was lost forever.
  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – Not exactly zombies, but Maren’s ability to consume anyone who loves her—bones and all—has all the gore and chills you’d expect. When her mother abandons her, Maren seeks out her estranged father, trying to find out why she is a monster. See my review here.
  • Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan – A departure from dystopian but a story of revenge by the same author that had me turning the pages until the end. Francis survived a cruise ship disaster that took her best friend’s life, but she has a plan to dispense justice for those responsible. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: The Dead-Tossed Waves

6555517by Carrie Ryan
YA Dystopian
2 of 5 stars

This sequel wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as the first book. Although we get to see the lighthouse and Gabry’s life that Mary fought so hard for in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Gabry herself is so annoying that you just want the story to end.

Gabry is one of the weakest characters I’ve encountered. In fact, her lack of agency was so prevalent I included the sentence structure for most of her thoughts in my Goodreads review: “I wanted to [insert course of interesting actions, revealing my true feelings, etc]. Instead, I [did the complete opposite and was as passive and silent as possible].” Gabry never finds her feet in terms of making her own place in the zombie-filled world and the decisions she does make are usually dumb. She’s consistently frustrating.

The world remains interesting, dark, filled with bleak insights into what a post-zombie apocalypse society is like. Difficult decisions about humanity abound. But Gabry is not the person to take you through this story or world with any semblance of common sense or interest, and the supporting characters aren’t strong enough to save you.

Flat characters and flat-lined pacing, this book is a good concept that doesn’t reach its potential, and that always makes me sad.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Dead-Tossed Waves is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – A dystopian America ruled by super-powered silver-blooded elites, in denial that a commoner red-blooded uprising is going to happen. See my review here.
  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion – “R” doesn’t remember much before he became undead, but when he sees Julie he starts feeling urges he hasn’t felt in a long time—they might almost be human. This is a charming retelling of Romeo and Juliet with zombies.
  • Bones & All  by Camille DeAngelis – Maren wakes up on her 16th birthday to her mother’s abandonment. Maren understands. Since Maren was a baby, she’s consumed everyone who has ever loved her—bones and all—and her mother probably feared she was next. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: Allegiant

17383918by Veronica Roth
YA Dystopian
2 of 5 stars

This was one of my biggest disappointments of 2013. I loved Divergent, Insurgent was all right, and I was confident that the finale would more than make up for any slow bits in book 2. That’s what trilogies do, I said. I was wrong. I won’t copy and paste my Goodreads review (which is the full account of my dissatisfaction with this book) but reading my review again I decided to stand by my initial opinion.

I’m yet to be a fan of changing POV once a series has begun. If it’s one person, keep that person. Don’t add a new POV character part-way through. It never seems to work, and the voices always end up sounding the same. The action is repetitive (so much so that the characters remark on it), and the entire tone of the book changes from hopeful to negative. Tris in the first two books goes through some terrible things, but ultimately believes humanity is good and worth fighting for. Tris in book three learns that humanity is born evil, has no way of redeeming itself, and is probably not worth fighting for after all. Tris doesn’t accept that, but the other characters are skeptical of her positive outlook and their opinions rule the story. Finally, for a series based on “your choices make you what you are,” this book rejects that idea in favor of Genetically-Pure (?!) and Genetically-Damaged (?!?!) people who are predestined to be good or bad. What. (The science of all this is not explained).

The end of this trilogy went against everything I expected, and I don’t mean because it wasn’t a “happy” ending. Everything from the characters to the tone betrayed what the first two books stood for and left me feeling lost, wondering what I just read.  I definitely support taking risks in writing and not going for the easy ending in a series, but this wasn’t enjoyable to read and couldn’t be more different from the first book. It’s possible I would have liked this story if it was the beginning of a series or something, but adding it to the Divergent universe just felt like jamming the wrong puzzle pieces together.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Allegiant is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins  – Another depressing end to a trilogy but it fits with the world and although it’s not pleasant to read, the grit of it is excellent. See my review here.
  • Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve – As a literal interpretation of municipal Darwinism, the largest cities are mobile and sweep across the world consuming and absorbing each other for resources and labor. Tom finds himself stranded on solid ground and must find a way to survive in this stark post-apocalyptic world.
  • The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan – The final book in a zombie-apocalypse trilogy that follows Gabry’s twin sister Annah in the Dark City—one of the last human strongholds in America. Annah is waiting for Elias to come back for her to start their life together, but Catcher promises something new in a world full of nothing but death.

Backlist Bonus: Mockingjay

mockingjayby Suzanne Collins
YA Dystopian
2 of 5 stars

This is an interesting case where my star rating isn’t for flaws in the book itself. This was not an enjoyable book to read, but only because it was so good. The final chapter in this trilogy is so realistically bleak there is no way to enjoy reading it. It’s dark, depressing, and gray. While I think it’s admirable to show what all these drastic, revolution/post-apocalypse/political-manipulation-machine stories would actually be like, it was like reading 1984. It’s good to have it checked off your list but you never need to read it again. My current rating scale would give this 3 stars, but I feel weird changing my Goodreads rating after the fact. I know, I’m weird.

We’ve spent hundreds of pages reading about Katniss. Her goals, her struggle to survive, her place in a world that is clearly more complex than she first thought. I cared about Katniss–I did not want to see her utterly destroyed as a person. “The girl on fire” who was burnt to ashes. Unfortunately, she’s the Mockingjay, not a phoenix. The capable, clever, determined girl from the first two books is reduced to a shivering, irrational creature suffering from intense PTSD and essentially paralyzed. These are all reactions I’d expect in a person coming off of two rounds of the Hunger Games–but it doesn’t fit the tone of the previous books and it’s a sucker-punch to the reader. It’s as if you were watching a Disney movie and suddenly the princess is actually reacting to being locked up/asleep for years instead of smiling and riding off with the prince.

Political and physical battles span the length of the book, but unlike the film we don’t get much perspective on Panem since Katniss isn’t very involved. Lots of death, lots of trauma, lots of moralizing on how each government regime eventually becomes what it fought against. True, but unpleasant. So although it’s definitely interesting to read the trilogy and experience Katniss’ complete journey, in my opinion this doesn’t have the re-readability of the first two books.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Mockingjay is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Allegiant by Veronica Roth – Another depressing end to a dystopian trilogy, but that series was my favorite after this one. In my opinion, another instance of the first two books being better, but book three is polarizing.
  • The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan – This trilogy about the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse started strong, had a rough middle, and then ended on a slightly weird/uplifting note. Again, I felt this was the most realistic of the three (in terms of perspective) and your level of enjoyment will depend on whether that suits you.

Ice Like Fire

17404295by Sara Raasch
YA Fantasy
2 of 5 stars
sequel to Snow Like Ashes

Snow Like Ashes took a while to grab me, but once it did I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, this one failed to engage my interest. The bulk of it (and it is a hefty length) is spent on indecisive and repetitive politics. The fiery, headstrong Meira is gone, replaced by an unprepared child-queen desperate to protect Winter but without the assets or knowledge to do so. Facing this, she spends most of her time lamenting her lost status as a simple warrior and her ineptitude as a politician.

We get a split narration with Mather, but this doesn’t serve to move the plot along until about the two-thirds point. It was challenging to connect to Meira’s voice in the first book, and some pacing oddities prevented it from being a flawless debut. This book veers off in unexpected directions that spend a lot of time building up to a rushed and chaotic conclusion. All the action in the last 100 pages is cinematic but overwhelming after so much plodding exposition. Overall, the characters felt like they were being pushed through actions they didn’t fully support or understand. I’m not sure what to expect from the conclusion to the trilogy. This was a tough book to review, but I still hold out hope that the last book will make sense of it all.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Ice Like Fire is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Infinite by Lori M. Lee – This sequel further explores the powers of the Infinite and the fragile political and economic ties between Ninurta and the surrounding area. Kai finds herself being an ambassador with no experience trying to prevent a deadly war. See my review here.
  • Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – Although this wasn’t my cup of tea, it seems to have wide appeal, so I recommend this for similar style and tone, and the brewing political tension between the Silvers and Reds that entangles Mare. See my review here.
  • Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George – Cousins Dacia and Lou find themselves less than eager to deal with the family secret of shape-shifting, but getting out of it is harder than they think. Especially since the family has extensive plans for their powers. See my review here.
  • The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski – For a politically-driven YA fantasy that’s a bit faster-paced and more interesting, I recommend this sequel. Kestrel’s struggle to balance her engagement-alliance with her country and her true love for Arin and his country has her walking a knife’s edge that is addicting to read. See my review here.


23528142by Kaui Hart Hemmings
YA Contemporary
2 of 5 stars

Kaui Hart Hemmings burst onto the scene with her debut novel, The Descendants (you may have heard of the film, which garnered considerable Oscar buzz and put Shailene Woodley on the list for “The Divergent Series” movies). The writing is fantastic and I snatched up her next novel, The Possibilities, and it was nearly as good as the first one. It was a bit darker, but still had the prose I loved. Juniors is her YA debut, and unfortunately, this is her weakest book.

Part of my issue was the jacket copy—this wasn’t about fitting in as part Hawaiian/part Mainlander at all. This was entirely focused on social classes—namely Lea’s upper middle class life and her experience living on a millionaire’s estate for most of her junior year of high school. I’m always curious about other cultures and how they have to bump up against each other these days, but Lea’s constant (and I mean constant) attitude regarding the mostly-rich vs. the extremely rich was exhausting. Lea spends the novel wishing she had more money and a different personality, and in the end she ends up staying exactly the same. I just didn’t enjoy spending all that time in her head.

There’s an attempt at female friendship (after the typical catty back-stabbing and gossiping) that falls flat. There are a few observations about social quirks and some insight into life on Oahu, but overall this felt like the author’s cathartic (but largely unrelatable) project about her high school experience. This reads like a Hawaiian version of The OC or something, and it’s just not my cup of tea. I just don’t enjoy drama for drama’s sake.

None of this means the writing isn’t good—as usual she makes excellent choices with her sparse descriptions and dialogue—but I’ll be more cautious about her next book, especially if it’s YA. Juniors has been optioned by director Jason Reitman.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Juniors is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Gabi has a tough senior year ahead with her best friend’s pregnancy and her other best friend kicked out of his home for being gay. But she’s determined to get into college and her poetry can support her along the way. See my review here.
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith – Hadley misses the flight to her father’s second wedding, but ends up meeting Oliver: cute, British, and a good listener. Maybe it’s fate! See my review here.
  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han – Lara Jean has had many crushes, but never a boyfriend. She writes down her feelings in letters (to save, not mail) to get over them. But then her letters DO get out, and she has to encounter her feelings for these boys and their reaction to them. See my review here.
  • Made You Up by Francesca Zappia – Alex has to navigate the high school landscape with a slight disadvantage: she doesn’t always know what’s real and what’s not. Her schizophrenia tries to trick her every day, which she has started to get used to, until she starts to wonder if her best friend is imaginary. See my review here.

Pretending to Be Erica

23281811by Michelle Painchaud
YA Contemporary
2 of 5 stars
Debut novel – July 21, 2015

I was very excited about this book when it came out, but it took me forever to get my hands on a copy. Now that I’ve finally read it, I have to admit I’m disappointed. The premise is so good: a girl plucked from foster care obscurity by a Vegas con artist to be trained (and surgically modified) for years to pull off the ultimate heist. Violet will pretend to be Erica Silverman, an heiress missing since age five, magically returned to her true parents thirteen years later, who in actuality will steal a family painting worth $60 million and split after a few months. A long-term con, big stakes, coupled with the exploitation of Violet and Erica Silverman’s real parents. Yes please!

Unfortunately, the execution of this plot felt clunky and downright dull halfway through. I couldn’t connect to Violet–despite her complicated feelings about the con, her voice was flat–and the plot wasn’t suspenseful enough to hold my interest. Most of the pages are devoted to cliche high school drama. I might check out the author’s next book, but this one didn’t do it for me.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Pretending to Be Erica is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s store website, here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan – This immediately came to mind as a more suspenseful impersonation story. In this case it’s for revenge, not a heist, but Frances’ story is more compelling. See my review here.
  • The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma – Mistaken identity and unreliable narrators are the order of the day in this suspenseful story about ballerinas and terrible secrets. See my review here.
  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – This isn’t a heist or a story about mistaken identity, but it is a suspenseful quest following Maren, a girl who happens to eat everyone close to her. See my review here.
  • Rook by Sharon Cameron – A retelling of the Scarlet Pimpernel with spies spying on other spies and general mayhem. See my review here.

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