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: In the Hand of the Goddess

handofby Tamora Pierce
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

The titles are overlong but these short books in the Song of the Lioness quartet are some of my favorites. In the first book, Alanna disguised herself as a boy to train as a knight alongside the prince of Tortall and a band of noble boys.

Alanna earns her place as a squire but her closest friends discover her secret identity. Now that they face more responsibility as they train to earn their shields, Alanna must work harder than ever to earn respect in the ranks. As she tries to reject the burdens of her true gender, Alanna must also contend with a plot on Prince Jonathan’s life—when she realizes it’s also a plot against her own. Her growing magical abilities threaten to reveal her to her enemies as she struggles to save the prince anonymously.

The themes and tone of this story have aged with the characters, and this is my favorite in the series. Everything I loved from the first story (secretly beating boys at their own games, political intrigue, dangerous magic, intriguing allies) is present in this installment with better adventures. Alanna fights against the all-too-true realization that when her friends learn she is a girl, their entire treatment of her changes (often in a bad way), regardless of her achievements or opinions. Her refusal to be put in their damsel-to-protect box is the fire of this series and was so important to me growing up. A must-read for fantasy-lovers!

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

Similar reads:

  • Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce – Set in the same world, Daine’s gift with horses gets her a job at the royal stables. But when she is unable to hide the magical nature of her gift, Daine must confront her past or risk never controlling her magic at all. A new set of characters and adventures with the same flair that made you fall for the Song of the Lioness quartet.
  • Sabriel by Garth Nix – Sabriel is studying to take over her father’s role as the kingdom’s Abhorsen (a necromancer that lays the dead to rest). When her father goes missing, Sabriel must rescue him despite having only a fraction of the knowledge and training she needs. One of my absolute favorite stories, see my review here.
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley – Another favorite of mine, Mirasol struggles to accept her new magical abilities within her demense’s government. If she fails to learn in a few months what most apprentices learn for years, her kingdom could collapse. A Beauty and the Beast re-telling coupled with intriguing characters and slow-burn romance. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: Tithe

titheby Holly Black
YA Fantasy / Paranormal Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: October 1, 2002

I tend to love the author’s worlds and writing style, but her books have polarizing reviews, so if you like one you’ll probably love them all–if not, well, maybe try something else. She typically has a semi-creepy hook with magic in a modern setting and her characters are brash and brave by turns.

Her debut novel features traditional faery mythology set in New Jersey as Kaye has a chance encounter with a faery in the woods. By unintentional cleverness, she claims the faery’s name for saving his life, not realizing the power she now holds over him. To make matters more complicated, the faery’s new ties to Kaye make the faery queen jealous, and she sets her sights on Kaye completing an ancient and deadly faery ritual to give her power over both the Seelie and Unseelie courts. Kaye would be concerned if she wasn’t dealing with the sudden appearance of wings on her back and her skin turning green…

It’s a fast-paced novel that’s a bit rough around the edges but shines with the story and the clear evidence of the author’s talent. This is a fun place to start with Black’s work, but I always like seeing an author’s debut work to compare with their current books. If you enjoy faery mythology you should give this a try.

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

Similar reads:

  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – I feel like this is the story that Black was trying to write when she wrote Tithe. They’re very similar but this one is better and shows off her signature style. See my review here.
  • Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception by Maggie Stiefvater – Deirdre discovers her musical talent is drawing the attention of mischievous (and possibly malevolent) faeries. See my review here.
  • The Named by Marianne Curley – A group of teens and adults named in a prophecy struggle to keep the timeline as it should be when the Order of Chaos seeks to disrupt historical events. Time-travel adventures and plenty of drama as well, super fun!
  • The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey – Although not the most original urban fantasy, the characters are great and the fast-paced mystery to find the Firebird had me enthralled. Echo is a runaway thief in New York living among the Avicen, who are at war with the Darkharin, and she decides to steal the Firebird–the ultimate weapon to end the war. I can’t wait for the sequel! See my review here.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – Probably closest in writing style in my mind, this creepy novella takes magic in our world to the next level. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: Alanna – The First Adventure

alannaby Tamora Pierce
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: September 1, 1983

My childhood followed many predictable phases. The I-must-own-a-horse phase. The unicorns-are-better-than-horses phase. The (ongoing) Harry Potter phase. This book began my (ongoing) girls-who-kick-ass phase. Even if I was not allowed to say “ass” at the time!

Alanna and her twin brother want each other’s jobs, so Thom goes to sorcery school pretending to be a girl, while Alanna pretends to be a boy and goes to the king to become a knight. (Come to think of it, I don’t remember what happened when the nuns discovered Thom’s identity…) Alanna disguises herself and goes through all the grueling training, bullying, and lessons of knighthood. She makes a lot of enemies, but a few good friends too, and her no-holds-barred attitude towards achieving her goal was so awesome to me as a kid. Alanna became my standard for Coolest Characters Ever. Then along came Sabriel, Lyra from The Golden Compass, Aerin from The Hero and the Crown, Hermione…and I’ve never looked back!

Although the quartet starts almost middle-grade it transitions to YA by the second book. Alanna’s trials for knighthood are interwoven with a sinister plot for the king’s throne and interesting encounters with George, the King of Thieves, who quickly realizes “Alan” has a secret. Alanna has to figure out who to trust and how to save the king, even as her own secret identity and dreams are at stake. This quartet is classic fantasy and Pierce’s characters are well-drawn and lovable. It was very progressive for its time and the first two books especially hold a dear place in my heart. Visit Tortall for a few hours—the books are short and worth it!

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

Similar reads:

  • Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce – Set in the same world, Daine’s gift with horses gets her a job in the royal stables. But Daine slowly realizes the gift she tries to hide is actually magical, and to control it she must face her past. (I know, the only thing better than having your own horse as a girl is being able to magically speak to the horse. You’re welcome, every horse-loving girl out there!)
  • Truthwitch by Susan Dennard – The world-building and tone of this YA book strongly reminds me of Pierce’s work. Safi and Iseult are fierce friends facing a lot of trouble. Safi’s ability to tell truth from lies has her wanted by everyone who suspects her secret. Iseult’s inability to master her Threadwitch apprenticeship makes her a threat to her tribe. When the girls’ pasts begin to catch up with them, mayhem ensues. See my review here.
  • The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Vol. 1 by Diana Wynne Jones – Jones and Pierce are inextricably intertwined in my mind. They are both amazing fantasy writers with vivid worlds and complex systems of magic that have enthralled me for years. This features two stories about the Chrestomanci (the sorcerer with 9 lives entrusted with keeping order and balance within the Twelve Related Worlds). Both of these manage to be amusing and dark in equal parts and aren’t to be missed.

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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