Thursday, January 11, 2018

REVIEW: DIVERGENT SERIES 2 - INSURGENT ~ VERONICA ROTH


Veronica Roth’s Insurgent is the second book in the Divergent series and picks up where it’s predecessor, Divergent, left off; Tris, Tobias, Caleb, Marcus and Peter fleeing the aftermath of the Abnegation attack, on the train, out of the city.  Along their journey they attempt to rejoin the remaining loyal Dauntless and seek safe haven with other factions, but with Erudite and the rebel Dauntless out for blood, allies are few and far between. 
 
 
Tris’ guilt over her parents’ deaths and killing Will is pulling her into a darkness she has not known before and Tris finds herself having a bit of a death wish, placing extreme pressure on her relationship with Tobias.  
 
Shailene Woodley nails this heartbreaking scene in the film
 
With major secrets and tension between them, and Tris and Tobias find their still fragile relationship on very shaky ground.  While navigating troubles of their own, they must unravel the more important mystery of why Abnegation was attacked in the first place and why Jeanine Mason is dead-set on identifying all the divergents.  Danger and mystery abound, friend and foe is indistinguishable.  A surprise return, a shocking betrayal and an unexpected ally are just some of the things keeping the reader off balance, and the unpredictable journey Tris takes the reader on makes Insurgent a very satisfying continuation of the series. 



Shortly after finishing Divergent, I innocently and accidentally came across a major Allegiant spoiler on Pinterest, which unfortunately doused my interest in continuing the series.  My delay in continuing the series therefore had nothing to do with my enjoyment thereof, or the quality of Roth’s work.  Time and distance has reawakened my curiosity and I am finally ready to see how Tris’ journey reaches its inevitable conclusion.  I very much enjoyed the action and adventure Insurgent provides, and I think the series is playing out very cleverly.  While in Divergent I admired Tris’ bravery, I found myself frustrated with her in Insurgent.  I had a hard time understanding why she made some of the decisions she did.  I absolutely respect the fact that she has lost both her parents and that the uncertainty of her current situation must be overwhelming, yet I found Tris making (in my opinion) very stupid choices in this book. 
 
Tris cuts her hair in mourning
 
I believe Roth wanted to illustrate Tris’ death wish, in which she succeeded, but the problem is that Tris’ rash behaviour placed not only herself in danger, but those around her as well, and this disregard for the safety of others is very unlike Tris.  Lying, keeping secrets and breaking promises also come much too easy.  More than once I also felt that Tris had zero regard for her relationship with Tobias, and she continued to make choices she knew would hurt both Tobias and their relationship, without attempting to have a mature conversation with him first. 
 
 
The thing I liked least about Insurgent is that I struggled to identify with Tris this time around.  It was easy in Divergent, but I did not connect with Tris all that well in Insurgent.   I do, however, commend Roth for her bravery in taking Tris on this emotional rollercoaster and not shying away from the darkness inside of Tris; it makes Tris’ ultimate epiphany that much more tangible and satisfying. 
 
Tobias with the Factionless
 
We do discover why Abnegation was targeted, what Tris’ parents were willing to die for (besides Tris and Caleb), and a whole new world is opened to us, ready to be discovered in Allegiant.  All in all Insurgent makes for a very satisfying read.
 
 
Product Information:
Title: Insurgent
Series: Divergent (not standalone)
Author: Veronica Roth
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
Year: 2012
Pages: 545
ISBN-10: 0062024051
ISBN-13: 978-0062024053
ASIN: B0070R41G0

 
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Monday, January 1, 2018

REVIEW: CHESAPEAKE VALOR 2: STILL LIFE ~ DANI PETTREY

Still Life by Dani Pettrey is the second book in the Chesapeake Valor series.  Each book in the series will be loosely connected to the others in that it will feature the same group of characters and an independent, but will function well as standalone stories in that each book will have different main characters.  While it is not necessary to read all of the books or to read them in order, enjoyment of the series will obviously be enhanced by reading all of the books in order.
 


Still Life takes place a few months after the conclusion of Cold Shot.  Parker Mitchell’s assistant, Avery Tate, has resigned her position with him as she has accepted both the fact that she loves him, and that he still loves Jenna, his deceased first love, and she finds being close to him every day, bearing the burden of her supposed unrequited love too difficult to bear.  When Avery’s childhood friend, Skylar, goes missing and Avery suspects foul play, she however has no option but to turn to the best crime scene analyst she knows and Avery and Parker’s paths cross again.  With Avery back in his daily life and the void she had left behind once again filled, Parker can no longer deny his feelings for her; but where does that leave his devotion to Jenna?  Can he still honour her memory if he allows himself to love another?

To Avery’s horror her hunch soon proves correct and Skylar turns up dead.  In order to find answers, Avery must navigate the life she had left behind, exposing her dreaded past to the man she most wants to impress.  Facing the ugly truths and painful memories of her past forces Avery to confront her demons once and for all, and she must expose her deepest hurts and greatest regrets to Parker if she hopes to have a future with him.  As the team begins to investigate Skylar’s murder, Avery and Parker’s mutual attraction becomes the least of their worries when it seems Skylar’s killer has set his sights on Avery.
 
 
My review of Cold Shot made it clear that I found Parker and Avery to be a much more interesting pair than Griffin and Finley, and Still Life did not disappoint.  Where Cold Shot made Finley a sidekick, Avery is very much an integral part of the investigative team.  As opposed to Finley and Griffin in the first book, Avery and Parker spend the majority of the book together as they face all obstacles as a team. 

With the murder investigation on the forefront, the book also takes the time to delve into Avery’s insecurities stemming from a past she is struggling to make peace with, as well as Parker’s struggle to move on from loving and losing Jenna.  Both issues are beautifully explored and the character development for both Avery and Parker is realistic and satisfying.   

As with Cold Shot, the religious elements in Still Life add to the story without being overwhelming, sure to satisfy believers, yet not exasperate non-believers. 

I very much enjoyed Still Life, and will certainly continue the series with both Blind Spot (Declan and Tanner’s story), and Dead Drift (Luke and Kate’s story).  Declan and Tanner uncovered a terrorist plot in Still Life, and I believe this story will develop even further in Blind Spot, and perhaps even in Dead Drift as the long lost Luke finally proves to be alive as Kate has always believed, and comes home to face the ones he left behind.  When Kate learns he disappeared and left her behind voluntarily to become a secret operative, will she finally let him go, or will he give her a reason to hold on? 



Product Information:

Title: Still Life

Series: Chesapeake Valor (Standalone)

Author: Dani Pettrey

Publisher: Bethany House Publishers

Year: 2017

Pages: 352

ISBN-10: 0764212958

ISBN-13: 978-0764212956

ASIN: B01M6W47W7

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

REVIEW: CHESAPEAKE VALOR 1: COLD SHOT ~ DANI PETTREY

Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey is the first book in the Chesapeake Valor series.  Each book in the series will be loosely connected to the others and feature many of the same characters, but will function well as standalone stories.  While it is not necessary to read all of the books or to read them in order, enjoyment of the series will obviously be enhanced by reading all of the books in order.
 

 
Cold Shot follows the story of former sniper turned park ranger Griffin McCray who uncovers a fresh grave during a routine patrol.  What initially seems to be a relatively routine investigation turns deadly when forensic anthropologist Finley Scott discovers evidence pointing to the work of an expert sniper.  With Finley refusing to back down from investigating the case, Griffin has no choice but to work with the interesting woman whom he has studiously worked to avoid for several months, along with his childhood friends, FBI agent Declan Grey and crime scene analyst, Parker Mitchell. 

 
 
When their persistent digging places Finley in the crosshairs of the deadly sniper, Griffin must finally admit his attraction to her and the fact that he has avoided her because he doesn't believe  himself ready for the kind of relationship a woman like Finley deserves.  Along with everything else on Griffin's plate, the tension between him and Parker places the entire team on edge.  Finley learns that the trio, who were once inseparable, drifted apart following the disappearance of their friend, and a mysterious traumatic event in their past which Griffin and Parker refuse to discuss.  The reason for this rift is another mystery the reader must work to solve. 

Along with finding the killer, Griffin must face his past, confront his demons and come to terms with a few hard truths to not only protect the woman he can no longer deny he loves, but to feel worthy of her.  Unbeknownst to Griffin, the "perfect" Finley is fighting demons of her own when their case places her life in danger, reminiscent of a previous case that left her with scars she desperately tries to hide from her new friends.  What exactly happened to Finley also remains a mystery through a large part of the story, adding to the list of mysteries which must be solved.  

It may not be fair to compare an author's newest works to its predecessors, but let's be honest; we all do it.  While the quality of Dani Pettrey's work remains top notch, I found that I did not enjoy Cold Shot nearly as much as I did the Alaskan Courage series, each book having had me on the edge of my seat throughout.  Those were well-researched, had great suspense, character depth and growth and tangible chemistry.  This was not the case with Cold Shot. I just did not connect with Griffin and Finley, or their story, to the extent that I was invested in the outcome, or ever feared for their safety at any one point.  I was way more invested in the few moments we got to share with Parker and Avery (who feature as the main characters in the second Chesapeake Valor book, Still Life; review to follow in due course).  Both Griffin and Finley are likable, intriguing characters, but for me they just did not have the chemistry I have come to expect from Pettrey and I found it hard to get emotionally invested in their story.  While Finley is opened interested in Griffin from the get-go, the bigger part of the story sees Griffin fighting his attraction to Finley and shooting her down.  At times I also found myself thinking that Finley does not have enough scenes and that she does not feel like a main character.  Instead of utilizing the potential a smart and brave female character such as Finley presented, her skills were ultimately not essential to the investigation, and she became a sidekick to Griffin's hero, sadly only serving as a damsel in distress for him to protect. I would say Cold Shot is about 80% mystery, 20% romance, and I personally prefer my mystery-to-romance-ratio way more balanced. 

I do love the way Pettrey portrayed both Griffin and Finley as devout Christians who each have a deep, meaningful relationship with God.  The religion aspect of the book was perfectly balanced, very much present but not too overbearing to be off-putting to readers who might be non-believers.  I loved all of the prayers both Griffin and Finley prayed; those were beautifully written.

All in all Cold Shot is by no means a disappointing read, but I cannot deny that it fell short of my expectations.  I am, however, very much looking forward to reading Parker and Avery's story and I will be picking up Still Life shortly.

 
 Product Information:
Title: Cold Shot
Series: Chesapeake Valor (Standalone)
Author: Dani Pettrey
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Year: 2016
Pages: 338
ISBN-10: 0764211978
ISBN-13: 978-0764211973
ASIN: B012H0ZYAQ

 
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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

REVIEW: HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD ~ JK ROWLING, JACK THORNE, JOHN TIFFANY


I may not be able to get to England to see the play, but my book is from England and that helps!
A special thank you to my best friend, Erika, for this lovely gift ♥

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a new play by Jack Thorne based on an original new story by JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, starts with the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione sending their own children off to Hogwarts. 
*Spoilers ahead* 
The Potters and the Granger-Weasleys at Platform 9 3/4
 
Harry’s youngest son, Albus Severus, is headed to Hogwarts for his first year and he is afraid of being sorted into Slytherin House.  As in Deathly Hallows’ epilogue, Harry assures his son that the bravest man he had ever met was from Slytherin House, and that Albus Severus carries his name.  That is where the final novel left us, with Harry assuring his son that it would not matter if he was sorted into Slytherin – a good thing as this is indeed what happens.  Harry’s oldest son James, and later his daughter Lily, as well as Ron and Hermione’s children Hugo and Rose are all sorted into Gryffindor House, but Albus finds himself sorted into Slytherin. 
Rose Granger-Weasley is sorted into Gryffindor
 
Albus also has great difficulty mastering spells in school and is soon dubbed “The Slytherin Squib”.  This, and the constant comparisons to his famous father, leads to a lot of doubt and confusion for young Albus who becomes a distant, troubled young man.  Shunned even by Rose Granger-Weasley, once his best friend, he finds an unexpected friend and ally in fellow Slytherin, Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Draco Malfoy.  Scorpius is also an outcast as he is the son of a former Death Eater, and a very dark rumour hangs over his head – the rumour that Draco and Astoria could not conceive children and that they used a time-turner to go back in time and conceive Lord Voldemort’s child!  At first this rumour is merely that as all time-turners were believed to have been destroyed during the battle at the Ministry of Magic.  Harry, now an overworked Head of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic, discovers that this is not the case as he retrieves several illegal magical devices during a raid – including a time turner. 
Albus and Harry have a very strained relationship which becomes only more strained as the years pass.  Albus, mistakenly believing that Harry does not care at all for the blood spilt in his name, takes it upon his own inexperienced shoulders to right at least one wrong - Albus decides to break into the Ministry of Magic, steal the time-turner now in Hermione's possession, return to the Tri-Wizard Tournament and prevent Cedrick Diggory's death. Yeah... going back in time to alter events... what could possibly go wrong? 
Harry Potter consults the portrait of Professor Dumbledore
 
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child follows Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy as they navigate past and present, creating more wrongs than they fix as they tamper with the past and the butterfly effect changes everything in their present.  As Albus and Scorpius create all kinds of trouble messing with the past, Harry starts having very disturbing nightmares about his troubled son and his scar starts to hurt for the first time since Voldemort's death - could it mean what we all fear it means?
Ginny and Harry discuss his escalating nightmares and his hurting scar
 
I would have appreciated more time with our core trio, but this time around they are more supporting characters as the story focuses on Albus.  My favourite character is Scorpius Malfoy, much to my surprise!  I found him to be very complex and incredibly funny – I actually think, given the chance, he would have gotten along famously with the Weasley twins (oh, Fred).  The plot is very well written and keeps you on the edge of your seat.  After so many years away, it is great fun visiting Hogwarts again and catching up with beloved characters. 
An important announcement is made at the Ministry of Magic

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is, of course, released not in the form of a novel but as the script of the play.  It obviously reads very differently than the Potter novels, but it is quite easy to get into.  My only criticism would be that as reader I am not quite as immersed in the Potter universe as I am when reading the novels which have much greater, vivid descriptions – but as this is essentially a play meant to be seen more than a script meant to be read, this is not a fair criticism at the end of the day.  I am, however, not London-based and doubt very much that I will ever get to see the play performed in Pretoria, South Africa, so settle for the script I must – at least until a film version I desperately yearn for.   This story would make an excellent movie, though given the complexity of the plot and elements of time travel, a film version seems highly unlikely.  I also very much doubt that Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint could be persuaded to return for another Potter movie, but I think audiences would forgive a change in casting since their characters are 19-22 years older than during the events of the Battle of Hogwarts.  I, for one, would forgive a change of casting if it meant I got to see this story play out on the silver screen...  however, nobody – and I mean nobody – could replace Alan Rickman as Professor Snape…
The original stage production cast
All in all Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is great entertainment and sure to be a hit with all fans of the series.  As a film version seems highly unlikely, be sure to get yourself a ticket to the play (I would if I could!) or get your hands on a copy of the script - you will not be disappointed.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

* This post contains spoilers of both the book and film. I am assuming you have either read the book or seen the film.
 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is based on the second half of the novel “Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.  Mockingjay Part 2 picks up roughly where Part 1 left off.  A few days have passed since Peeta tried to kill Katniss, and she is still recovering (the scene where Katniss is being examined by medical staff is brilliantly done).  The film follows the culmination of rebellion against the Capitol as it gains strength when more and more districts join the fight.  As the rebels march on the enemy, the Hunger Games Game-makers turn the Capitol into one last trap-filled arena.

 

We follow Katniss and Star Squad 451 as they march on the Capitol in a war for freedom.   Peeta’s condition and recovery is also at the forefront of most of the film, with the palpable tension between Katniss and Peeta growing continually worse (how awful it is to see them call each other Capitol mutts and mean it).  There’s a very powerful quote in the book where Katniss thinks to herself: 


I realise it is not in Katniss’ nature to talk about her feelings, but I would have loved for these lines to somehow have made it into the film (Katniss saying it to Finnick, perhaps – Finnick seems like the most likely candidate she would discuss something like that with).  It is absolutely heartbreaking to watch Peeta passionately hate the woman he’s always loved because of what Snow did to him, especially considering his statements in The Hunger Games: “I don’t want them to change me [...], turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not.  I keep wishing I could think of a way to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games”.  At the end of The Hunger Games he also tells Katniss “I don’t want to forget”. 
 



The Capitol not only tortured him, they realised all of his biggest fears.  They made him lose himself. 
 

While The Hunger Games series is so much bigger than Team Peeta vs Team Gale, the question of who Katniss will ultimately end up with also needs to be answered.  It’s not as clear-cut as you might think.  While even Katniss says he is no longer the Peeta she loved, he is still Peeta and her feelings for Peeta were too real and deep to go away just because he's damaged.  Gale also says that he’s hoping Peeta will recover, because if he doesn’t, Gale doesn’t stand a chance with Katniss because she would never give up on Peeta.  It’s a complicated love triangle, deeper than the average one, and I am happy that the scene where Peeta and Gale discuss who Katniss will choose while they think she is sleeping made it into the movie.   


I had wondered how the filmmakers would handle the tragic death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman while filming took place, and they did a fantastic job of using their available footage in all the right places.  Despite his limited screen time, Plutarch is a strong presence throughout the film and Hoffman’s acting was top notch.  Plutarch always, very subtly, looks like he knows something nobody else knows (which, of course, he does).  The only scene where his absence is acutely felt, is Plutarch and Katniss’ final conversation.  In the movie he sends her a letter which is read aloud by Haymitch.  It is safe to assume that this change was made following Hoffman’s death.  It’s sad that he couldn’t film it, but it works. 
One thing the film did not portray satisfactorily, is the growth of Katniss and Johanna’s relationship.  In the book Katniss and Johanna become roommates and develop a friendship as deeply as either of them are capable of.  They train extensively with the District 13 soldiers, with Katniss earning a spot on a military squad while Johanna fails the final test; that is the reason why Johanna is not a part of Star Squad 451, something non-readers would not know.  I also don’t think non-readers will pick up on their friendship. Johanna just appears to be her usual snarky self, and Katniss appears to tolerate her more than appreciate her. 

 
A small but important detail that is not in the movie, is that Peeta decorates Finnick and Annie’s wedding cake.  It might seem insignificant, but it is the very first indication that Peeta might be recovering. 
 


Both the book and the movie investigate what is acceptable during a time of war.  Is it okay to kill innocent civilians in order to get to the masterminds?  Both book and movie do an excellent job of driving home the fact that the revolutionaries aren’t necessarily any better than the Capitol.  A very small but pivotal scene in this regard has been left out of the film.  Katniss makes a huge case for the protection of civilians, especially as the rebels cause the avalanche in District 2 (the movie also didn’t effectively explain that Katniss’ horrified reaction to Gale’s plan is because both their fathers died trapped in a mine following an avalanche), and Gale's idea for a secondary bomb trap.  The movie, however, omits a scene where Katniss is recognized by a Capitol citizen on the street after their Squad escapes the sewers.  The woman opens her mouth to scream and Katniss instinctively kills the woman to protect her Squad and her mission.  Afterwards, she doesn’t think about it much which goes to show just how much the war changed Katniss.
 
Star Squad 451 in the Capitol
 
Unlike the book, the movie shies away from the uglier side of war.  In the books Peeta loses a leg, Boggs loses two and Katniss is severely burned in the bomb that kills Prim.  Many of the more violent deaths were either changed or omitted from the film.  In the books Katniss has to stand trial for killing Coin, but she is eventually acquitted due to insanity, which would have been an interesting detail to see on the screen.  To me, in the book it felt like Katniss is made the scapegoat of the aftermath of the war and is pretty much ostracised.  She also has severe post-traumatic stress disorder, something the movie doesn’t effectively depict either.  The movies portray that Haymitch seems to be pretty much recovered, but in the book he is very much a lifelong depressed alcoholic (and he and Effie never kiss).  I suppose these changes were made in order to stick to an age restriction of PG13, but I nevertheless regret that the movie shied away from the harsh realities of war. 

Both Peeta and Katniss have far more serious mental health issues than the movie portrays.  The movie does mention Katniss’ nightmares, but says nothing of Peeta’s flashbacks to his time in the Capitol.  Based on their apparent ages in the final scene, the movies shows both of them are settled and quite stable, and married with children very shortly after returning to District 12.  The movie implies that Katniss is healed because of her marriage and family with Peeta.  In the book, she is only able to get married and start a family many years later, after therapy, once she is finally able to put the Hunger Games behind her.
Also, in the book Katniss and Peeta create a book which they fill with sketches and memories of all the people they have loved and lost. I love that book. Sadly the book did not make it into the movie.
For whatever reason (Heaven knows I have no idea what it could be) Mockingjay seems to be the least favourite of the three books of the majority of the fandom.  As for me, Mockingjay was my favourite book and while I didn’t necessarily understand the need to split the book into two movies (it’s roughly the same length as The Hunger Games and Catching Fire), I certainly don’t feel that any single scene was unnecessary or drawn out.  Perfect casting and superb acting makes The Hunger Games film series one of the very best young adult series brought to our screens.  Honouring its source material while adding plausible new scenes to enrich the viewers’ experience (as the reader is confined strictly to Katniss’ perceptions), Mockingjay Part 2 is a very satisfying conclusion to a brilliantly done adaptation.
But one day I'll have to explain about my nightmares. Why they came. Why they won't ever really go away.  I'll tell them how I survive it. I'll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I'm afraid it could be taken away. That's when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I've seen someone do. It's like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years.
But there are much worse games to play.
 
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