Allegiant

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Allegiant by Veronica Roth (Photo: HarperCollins)I wanted to jump on the Allegiant bandwagon right away for a few reasons.

For starters, I got hooked on the Divergent trilogy earlier this year when Courtney made it our first-ever book club pick and I feel like I’ve been waiting AGES for a new one – I’ve been after a conclusion to the question mark middle child that was Insurgent since I read it back in May.

Also, people are talking about Allegiant, and there’s nothing I like less than feeling like the teenage literati are more plugged in than I am. (Oh, who am I kidding? I’m never going to be able to keep pace with the teenage literati. I just wanted to finish the series so I can talk about it with the kids who come into the bookstore where I work.)

Elizabeth, my lovely 18-year-old neighbour and former babysitting charge who lent me the first two Divergent books, is now grown up and away at university, so I had to fend for myself when finding a copy of this one. I eventually decided to Kindle it, because it doesn’t really make sense to buy the third book of a trilogy and display it on a shelf without its two companions. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like there’s something weird about that.

Anyway, there’s not a lot to say about Allegiant without completely ruining the story. There are a couple of completely mind-bending twists in there, including fresh details about the origins of the world and the five factions, Tris’s genetics and information about what lies beyond the walls of the city. There’s also a shift in the narrative structure from being completely Tris-narrated to blending the voices of Tris and Four, which is an interesting technique that I haven’t seen since I read Eleanor & Park earlier this year (Jodi Picoult is another example of an author that writes from multiple perspectives really effectively).

I’m not going to lie and say I LOVED the ending, because I didn’t. I thought it was strange and sad and a little bit over the top. But I also wasn’t disappointed in it in the same way that I was disappointed when I came to the end of Mockingjay and Katniss and Peeta were reduced to shells of their vibrant former selves. On the whole, I think The Hunger Games was a more enjoyable trilogy, but Divergent was probably more consistent in terms of character progression.

Days of Blood and Starlight

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Days of Blood and Starlight (Photo: Hachette Book Group)When I read The Hunger Games, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Catching Fire as soon as I was done with the first book. As soon as I found out that Daughter of Smoke and Bone was the first book in a trilogy, I immediately downloaded Days of Blood and Starlight onto my Kindle.

All I can say is holy cow. I don’t want to spoil too much of this really excellent series for you, because really, you should read it yourself. Daughter of Smoke and Bone ended on an incredible cliffhanger, and if I’m being perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure how Laini Taylor was going to follow it up.

Without giving too much away, while the first book took place primarily on Earth in semi-familiar settings (mostly Europe – Prague – and the Middle East), a major portion of Days of Blood and Starlight takes place in Eretz, which is the world of the chimaera and the seraphim. As we learned in Daughter of Smoke and Bone, there is a lot more to Karou and Akiva’s relationship history than first meets the eye – and the introduction of humans into Eretz (in the form of Karou’s art school friends Zuzanna and Mik) creates a whole new element of surprise.

There are battle scenes and complex characters – evil angels and terrifying devils. There is deep sadness and sorrowful loss, as well as strength, hope and love. There is also plenty of danger – from assassinations to assault. In the wrong hands, the ambitious content of this book would be a complete mess. But Laini Taylor proves herself to be a master storyteller. This is the most richly-imagined world and the most dynamic cast of characters I’ve encountered in literature for awhile.

And the cliffhanger at the end! I don’t know how I’m going to manage to wait until early 2014 for the final book! And how on earth is she going to tie up all the loose ends in one novel?

If you haven’t read these yet, please do. A lot of people (including me, sometimes) are put off by fantasy when it is done wrong. This is fantasy done very, very right.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

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Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Photo: Hachette Book Group)This book is exactly why book clubs are so awesome. This time, it was Monique’s turn to pick. Her tastes run deeper into the realm of fantasy than mine do, and she’s a great judge of what will be a good read (this makes sense – when we were lowly high school students and young undergrads, we worked together at a bookstore. I always liked her picks then, too – and you could always count on Monique to throw truly awesome Harry Potter-themed parties).

I bought Daughter of Smoke and Bone at the same time as I picked up the hideously awful Geek Girls Unite. These days, I’m trying not to buy too many books (saving for school in September), but the wait list at the library was crazy-long. I took this as a good sign – and I was right.

While Laini Taylor, the author, is American, there are so many European things going on in this book that it gave me the travel bug all over again. The story starts with Karou, a 17-year-old art student in Prague with electric blue hair. She has been raised by chimaera – creatures that share characteristics of different animals and humans – and occasionally is sent on mysterious ‘missions’ to recover teeth for Brimstone, who acts as sort of a father figure. In return, she is paid in ‘wishes’ – this means Karou’s blue hair never fades and that she can fly.

So far, so good, right? Karou thinks so too, and she doesn’t have much trouble concealing her true background until she crosses paths with Akiva, a seraph. Without giving too much of the plot away (because holy moly, this book is full of brilliant twists and turns) Karou and Akiva find themselves taking on the roles of star-crossed lovers with a semi-Biblical twist. What if there were bad angels? What if there were good devils? And what if an ages-old battle between angels and chimaera could be halted with love?

It’s hard to explain this book without the full experience of reading it. Taylor’s sophisticated writing, rich characters, colourful descriptions, zinging one-liners and just the right amount of romance (yes, they go there in young adult fiction – this is one for older YA readers for sure) make this a great for teens and adults alike. It’s one of the smartest books I’ve read in awhile.

If the geek girls don’t feel like uniting over Leslie Simon’s book (and who would blame them?), they should certainly be banding together and passing this one around in the hallways of their high schools. It’s part one in a trilogy and I absolutely can’t wait to read the rest.

 

 

Insurgent

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Insurgent (Photo: HarperCollins)What’s the best way to celebrate turning 28? By tracking down some teen fiction, of course.

When my book club read Divergent, I was really surprised and impressed by it – and now that finals are mostly over (one science course to go!), I headed over to my neighbour Elizabeth’s house to see if she had a copy of its sequel, Insurgent.

The book picks up in the chaotic aftermath of Divergent and it’s very pacey. There’s lots of new discoveries to make about how the five factions operate – well, six if you count all the exposure to the factionless, which don’t really have much to do with the first book. We also get to meet a few new characters, most notably Four’s mother Evelyn, who’s a bit of a question mark. Significant time is spent in Amity and Candor, which is sort of a nice change after so much Abnegation and Dauntless in the first book.

Insurgent suffers from typical middle-child-in-a-trilogy syndrome (like Catching Fire in the Hunger Games and The Girl Who Played With Fire in the Millennium Trilogy) in that not a lot actually happens and instead of concluding, the book just sort of stops. Because tensions are reaching a slow boil, I kind of half-expected it to keep going, and it just … ends. That’s annoying, because the third and final book of the series, Allegiant, doesn’t come out until October! It’s not as agonizing as waiting for new Harry Potters, but still. These three would have made for nice binge-reading material over a weekend.

Anne of Avonlea

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Anne of Avonlea (Photo: Sterling Publishing)After I reread Rilla of Ingleside for a Canadian history paper I wrote last month, I dug out my old Anne of Green Gables box set to get reacquainted with one of my oldest literary friends.

I’m not alone in my Anne love. Apparently, the Duchess of Cambridge is also a big fan (I’m a fan of Kate too, and this made me like her even more). The Anne books, along with Gone With the Wind, are among my very favourites – particularly the first four (Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island and Anne of Windy Poplars). My mom read at least two of them out loud to me when I was a little kid, and in 1995 when I was 10 years old and my family went on an east coast road trip to New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, I made my dad and brother spend a couple hours at Cavendish Figurines, where I got to dress up like Anne (I must have read about this place in some kind of guidebook, because I don’t think we had the internet at our house until at least 1999).

In 1995, this happened.

In 1995, this happened.

Because I recently re-watched the Kevin Sullivan Anne of Green Gables miniseries (which yes, I still have on VHS), I thought I’d skip book one and instead tuck into Anne of Avonlea.

Reading the Anne books as an adult is a much different experience than reading them as a kid, and each time I go back through them, I find something new that resonates with me. Anne of Avonlea picks up when Anne is 17 and largely chronicles her adventures teaching in the Avonlea one-room schoolhouse. Kind of apt for an education student-to-be, hey? Yes, she’s a fictional character and this book was written more than a century ago, but Anne experiences some of the same fears and emotions that I know I will in my own classroom, and in its own way, that’s very comforting.

Actually, comforting is a very good way to describe the whole experience of re-reading any of the Anne books. My friend Dipika in the UK, who I still do some freelance writing work with from time to time, mentioned to me on Facebook not too long ago that she found her recent re-read of Anne of Green Gables to be quite a comfort. I think she’s absolutely right. To me, Anne’s a bit like a bowl of soup on a cold day or a phone call from a long-lost friend. And when you add in a dash of Gilbert Blythe (who, in spite of being a completely fictional character, may have been the first boy I ever really fell in love with), how can you go wrong? I love this book every time I read it.