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: Insurgent

11735983by Veronica Roth
YA Dystopian
3 of 5 stars

After the explosive first book I was beyond excited to read the sequel, but like so many sequels, it was just okay. Despite extensive exploration of Tris’ world and the different factions, the story is a bit of a blur, clearly a transition to the last book more than a necessary installment on its own.

Tris’ initiation day ended in violence between the Erudite, Dauntless, and Abnegation factions. All trust between factions and within Tris’ group of friends is fractured and leaves everyone wondering what will happen now. Tris still isn’t sure what being divergent means, but after suffering unspeakable loss she’s determined to find answers. She and Tobias continue trying to navigate a romantic relationship despite the barriers of coming from the most repressive faction. And the rest of the Dauntless are dealing with the trauma of the actions they committed while under Erudite’s (Jeanine’s) control. Everything in Chicago is splintering and if Tris doesn’t find a way to unite everyone more bloodshed will follow.

Although I enjoyed seeing the other factions’ lifestyles and customs, this felt like a tour to distract us from the actual questions. What is divergence? What’s beyond the fence? What is Jeanine’s true endgame and capabilities? The last few chapters drop the bombshell brewing beneath the surface of the story (where did Chicago’s faction society come from) but this feels like the real event and everything else is just side information. The supporting characters also lack depth despite Tris spending so much time with them. An average “book 2” experience but definitely leaves you wanting to read the last book.

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

Similar reads:

  • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – Katniss unintentionally started a rebellion with her unusual win in the Hunger Games. If she doesn’t convince President Snow that her love for Peeta drove her actions, everything she loves will be ripped from her. See my review here.
  • The Infinite by Lori M. Lee – Kai must learn to use her powers over the threads of time and what this means for her destiny. See my review here.
  • Rook by Sharon Cameron – A standalone novel set in the ruins of what was Paris, where familiar tensions between the rich and poor are building to an explosive conclusion. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

zobieby Carrie Ryan
YA Dystopian
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel: March 10, 2009

I came across this book in an unusual way several years ago: I found my mother’s TBR list lying around the house and this book of all things was on there (along with the usual crime novels, travel books, and sisterhood/friendship stories). My mom was *not* a YA consumer, aside from Harry Potter (my influence). 🙂 Why on earth was she going to read a YA story about zombies? I had to know!

The premise grabbed me within the first few pages. Of course, it’s pretty clear the Sisterhood is hiding something and there are lot of details about the world we don’t know. But I really enjoyed the fact that zombies already destroyed the country, and the characters are dealing with the aftermath, with not knowing any other reality. So many apocalypse stories focus on the event itself, and somehow humanity overcomes the aliens/predators/zombies and that’s the end. This book followed what would happen if we failed, and that was much more interesting to me.

Mary is betrothed to a boy she doesn’t love, and longs to see the world outside of her fenced village. She wants to know if things like the ocean are real. If there are places where the Unconsecrated (the undead) haven’t taken over. The Sisterhood says their village is the last human stronghold left, but Mary isn’t so sure. When a girl comes to her village from outside the fence—wrecking everything Mary’s village knows about the world—Mary is determined to find out the truth for herself.

It’s not the most original plot and the characters felt a bit flat, but it was a quick read and I did want to know what would happen next. The atmosphere is vivid enough to make up for some of the writing’s deficiencies, though for a debut novel it’s pretty good. Plus I have a weird obsession with the cover art for the paperback—I don’t know, I just felt it captured the feel of the book and Mary’s character perfectly.

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

Similar reads:

  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion – Another account of a post-zombie apocalypse America, this time from a zombie’s point of view. “R” doesn’t remember his life or much of anything else, but when he sees Julie he has a sudden urge to protect her from the horrors of his hunting group. Weird, right? Don’t worry, it gets weirder. The film is good too.
  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – Maren is an average teenage girl looking for her biological father because her mother abandoned her on her sixteenth birthday. Why is she alone? Because Maren has this habit of eating everyone who loves her, bones and all. See my review here.
  • Mortal Engines by Philip Pullman – Instead of flesh-eating monsters, Thom and Hester contend with cities that devour one another for resources in the wastelands of the post-apocalyptic world.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Although Katniss and Peeta aren’t faced with eating their opponents, they are in an arena where only one of the 24 competitors will come out alive. See my review here.
  • Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard – Eleanor is a penniless society girl who must marry well to save her family. She’s more concerned with finding her missing brother, and the Dead that are sweeping through Philadelphia. See my review here.

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.

Backlist Bonus: Catching Fire

fireby Suzanne Collins
YA Dystopian
3 of 5 stars

Although a very good second installment for a trilogy, much of this seemed like the first book re-done. We go back to the arena for the Quarter Quell – a special version of the Hunger Games pitting victors against each other in another fight to the death. When Katniss and Peeta are chosen again for District 12, Katniss knows it’s because of their rebellion in the previous games. But Katniss can’t convince President Snow it was an accident born out of true love—he believes she is part of a wider rebellion.

The quicker pacing and better side characters in this version broaden our understanding of Panem’s districts and the Capitol’s hold on them. Katniss is placed in the interesting position of becoming the face of a rebellion she doesn’t believe in—she tries to halt the unrest but continually stirs it up instead. She fears for Prim, Gale, and Peeta as President Snow assures her that if she doesn’t succeed, he will stop everything by force and kill everyone she loves.

This kept my attention but I almost wished the twists and plot were combined into the first book rather than made into their own. The film version becomes an fascinating extension of this series because we aren’t confined to Katniss’ point of view, which gives us a lot more information than I felt we got in the book. Definitely worth reading because it doesn’t suffer from too much middle-book build-up.

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

Similar reads:

  • The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski – Kestrel’s stakes keep climbing as both sides in the war suspect her of being a double agent for the enemy. She struggles to stay one step ahead of her father, the emperor, and most of all Arin, whom she’s determined to help without his knowledge. See my review here.
  • Insurgent by Veronica Roth – Tris’ initiation to Dauntless ended in war between Erudite and the Abnegation. She’s determined to find a way to restore balance, but Erudite has plans bigger than she knows.
  • The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau – Lina, like the rest of Earth’s survivors, has lived in Ember all her life, the only safe city left, stocked with supplies for survival. But the supplies are running out, and the lights are failing too. Lina thinks it’s time to go beyond Ember’s walls for survival, before it’s too late. A short, fast-paced read that’s a touch lighter than typical dystopian fare.

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