Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Summary: Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war– and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice:
Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

My Thoughts: I’ve been hearing a lot about Shatter Me, and all the hype was right! I finished this one in a day, and while I knew it was going to be interesting because it’s the best mix of genres (dystopian, science fiction, young adult fiction, a bit of romance), I definitely didn’t expect the beautiful, almost poetic writing style of debut author Mafi.

I was immediately hooked from the first page. We’re introduced to Juliette as a narrator, and we’re wondering, is this character mentally unstable? Insane? Hallucinatory? Which are also questions that our protagonist keeps asking herself, especially when her life in solitary confinement is disrupted with the addition of a new cellmate–a boy who reminds her of before, before her entrapment and the end of the world.

The narration begins as a stream of consciousness that is alternately tightly controlled, utterly panicked, and all sorts of other emotions that the reader feels right along with Juliette. The action is non-stop, I was never bored, and at every point there was some kind of twist or revelation that I didn’t see coming that only contributed more to the plot and overall atmosphere.

The dialogue was perfect, it was snappy when necessary, and drawn-out when needed, everything pitch-perfect and right. I’m just going to keep coming back to Mafi’s talented writing abilities.

The only issue I had is that I wasn’t complete won over or convinced by our main bad guy. Maybe in the sequel, but he just didn’t tick with me or scare me enough for me to believe in the villainy.

It’s described as Hunger Games meets X-Men, and I think that’s a very apt description. I will definitely be looking for the sequel.

Author Website: http://www.taherehmafi.com/

Second Opinion: Angieville

How did I get this book? Ebook on my phone!

Genres: Science fiction, young adult fiction, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, romance

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines

Rating: 6 out of 10

Summary, from book jacket, with my own additions: Lyn, the ‘daughter of seven gladiators,’ has grown up in Glad culture with a mother who has made a career out of being a Glad wife — she is resigned to public life and the way TV audiences relish making sport out of her family’s many tragedies. The Gladiator Sports Association has strict rules that Glad families must follow: 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… The spotlight turns on Lyn as cameras follow this unlikely, staged courtship, as well as Lyn’s eventual trip into the arena to fight her fiance in order to win her freedom.

My Thoughts: I heard a lot of good things about this one, and I thought the premise was new and interesting, something I’d never really read before. It started out great and Haines did a good job developing the relationship between her characters, most notably between Lyn, our protagonist, and her stepfather Tommy, as well as her younger brother Thad. Those interactions felt very real and human to me, three-dimensional.

However I just couldn’t get into this alternate universe/closer-than-you-think future world that Haines created involving the Gladiator Sports Association. There were a couple of lines or situations in there where I really had to suspend my disbelief in order to keep reading. I thought Haines’ world-building was very shaky and detracted from the book, and the characters, very heavily.

I’m also not a big fan of writers using dashes (-) instead of quotation marks (“quote”) for their dialogue.

-Uber grew up fighting trained gladiators. The best trained gladiators. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that.

-I’ve been trainingn for awhile now, and I’m willing to take the risk.

I don’t tell him it’s only been a couple of months.

-I know Uber’s weak spots, I say. -And I think Tommy would want me to take care of Thad in any way I see fit. He was very concerned about Thad before he went into his last match.

-You’ve been training?

-If you have a sword lying around, I’d be happy to demonstrate.

-Ah no, he says. -That won’t be necessary.

-Then I’ll leave a DVD.

But this is more of a subjective/personal bias, I guess. Anyway I think this novel could work out well for a lot of people, it just wasn’t my thing. Here’s a more positive review from Angie to convince you to try it out.

The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott

Rating: 6 out of 10
Summary: Shadows fall across the beautiful, lush kingdom after the queen is attacked by an unnatural beast, and the healing skills of her daughter, Alexandra, cannot save her.

Too soon the widowed king is spellbound by a frightening stranger, a woman whose eyes reflect no light. In a terrifying moment, all Alexandra knows disappears, including her beloved brothers, leaving her banished to a barren land.

But Alexandra has more gifts than she realizes as she confronts magic, murder, and the strongest of evil forces, and is unflinchingly brave as she struggles to reclaim what is rightfully hers.

Commentary: I could not help but make constant comparisons to Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest. Mariott’s The Swan Kingdom, as a result, seemed like a slightly watered-down version aimed at much younger readers. It was just okay all the way through–okay characters, okay plot, okay story.

One thing I had trouble with is how easy the quest seemed to be for the protagonist in The Swan Kingdom. It didn’t seem like she had to do all that much in order to gain the reward and set her brothers free. She had constant, friendly, almost deus-ex-machina type of help all the way throughout the story.

On the other hand, I thought Mariott’s villain was very well done, added a bit more depth to the novel. Cool backstory, gave me a pleasant surprise.

Nothign especially spectacular as a book.

Genghis: Birth of an Empire by Conn Iggulden

Rating: 7 out of 10
Summary: He was born Temujin, the son of a khan, raised in a clan of hunters migrating across the rugged steppe. Temujin’s young life was shaped by a series of brutal acts: the betrayal of his father by a neighboring tribe and the abandonment of his entire family, cruelly left to die on the harsh plain. But Temujin endured—and from that moment on, he was driven by a singular fury: to survive in the face of death, to kill before being killed, and to conquer enemies who could come without warning from beyond the horizon.

Through a series of courageous raids against the Tartars, Temujin’s legend grew. And so did the challenges he faced—from the machinations of a Chinese ambassador to the brutal abduction of his young wife, Borte. Blessed with ferocious courage, it was the young warrior’s ability to learn, to imagine, and to judge the hearts of others that propelled him to greater and greater power. Until Temujin was chasing a vision: to unite many tribes into one, to make the earth tremble under the hoofbeats of a thousand warhorses, to subject unknown nations and even empires to his will.

Commentary: I actually really enjoyed this novel. Good points: Great adventure and description of the setting and all the action. I learned a lot about traditional Mongolian life and culture. The characters were lively and all different.

I did some research on Genghis Khan after reading this novel (just wikipedia) and it seems it was pretty historically accurate. This man led a fascinating life–amazing. Makes me wish I were Mongolian. Interesting thing: Iggulden also wrote the recent bestseller, The Dangerous Book for Boys.

I’m not a huge fan of Iggulden’s style of writing–very sparse… which can be good sometimes, but just didn’t work for me here. I’m eagerly awaiting to read the next in the series.

Additional interesting note: New movie to see release in the U.S. on June 6th: Mongol. Looks alright from the trailer. http://www.mongolmovie.com/