Sunday, July 6, 2014

Not Your Typical Graduation

Cia survived the Testing, but the worst was still to come. In the conclusion to Joelle Charbonneau's Testing series, Graduation Day, Cia is given the responsibility of the entire country, but she has no idea who to trust and how to proceed. 

Cia knows the truth behind the Testing. They were supposed to wipe her memories, but she remembers, and she knows the Testing is evil. Kids forced to kill one another, put through hell, and if they fail? They just disappear. She knows the Testing should end, but she has no idea who to trust. There is an entire group of rebels trying to stop the Testing, but their leader might be the worst of them all, secretly trying to control the rebels to actually preserve the Testing. 

Meanwhile, the President has a task for Cia. She is to find a way to get rid of the highest ranked Testing officials so they can get rid of the entire process. Only the list Cia gets is suspect. She knows she will need some help to get rid of the officials, but who she can trust among her University classmates is still a mystery. Besides Tomas, no one is completely trustworthy, not even her best friend. Still, she can't do it along. She is going to have to trust someone... but first, she must have her own little version of the Testing. With no one's allegiances clearly drawn, the fate of the country is clearly on precarious ground. 

Well, my biggest concern about this conclusion isn't really the conclusion itself. It felt pretty final, and while there were a couple of twists to keep you interested, it wasn't anything overwhelmingly fabulous. It was good, just not spectacular. My biggest pet peeve was that it felt like 250 pages were devoted to Cia's self-doubt and suspicions of the people around her and not enough was given to the actual coup she was supposed to be going through with. I kept finding myself thinking, "Really girl? Really? You have to assassinate 12 people, but let's snog our boyfriend and fret about whether our old roommate is a true friend or not!" It was frustrating at times. When the action did happen, either throughout the book, scattered around, or the big finale, it was very well written and interesting, but it didn't feel like it was the focus of the book. 

The biggest let down was that both subsequent books were just never as good as the first. I LOVED the first book, despite all its Hunger Games similarities, and this one just felt like Charbonneu grew tired of the story. At least the ending was one I could be satisfied with. I was sad to see less of Tomas, because he has always been more important to me than Cia in this series. There is a lot of moral ambiguity in this story that would be great conversation and discussion pieces. It is also middle reader friendly while still being a complex story. I look forward to reading Charbonneau's next project, but I really hope it remains steady in terms of entertainment factor!

The Cycle of Life

The responsibility of being the last man on earth must be a burden like no other; for Yorick, it appears to be just another day, as long as you don't consider the fact that he is being hunted by multiple groups of women for very different reasons. In the second volume of Y: The Last Man, Cycles, Brian K. Vaughan flexes his muscles in the story of Yorick, the last remaining man on earth. 

Yorick and Agent 355 found Dr. Mann, the woman looking to cure the plague, but they didn't save her research. When her lab and all her research is burned, they decide to head across the country to her secondary lab in California. Unfortunately, there is a whole country full of women who would be very interested to learn about the last man on earth between them and California. They are able to bargain their way onto a train headed West, but they should have expected the trip couldn't be that easy. When they end up in a small, idyllic town, they can't believe how well these women are living. What they don't know is that the whole town is hiding a very big secret. 

This volume does a great job of giving you glimpses into Yorick, Dr. Mann, and Agent 355, and because of that, you become heavily invested in the story after these issues. The first book was fun and exciting, but this is where you get hooked. The story line is complex and there are characters who will blow you mind. The reintroduction of Yorick's sister Hero is the most pivotal point for me. I just can't wrap my head around her and everything she is doing. And yet, why not? The world as they knew it is over. Why not capitalize on the new face of the planet? 

One of the most interesting sides of this part of the story is how different groups of women cope with the death of all the men. Some are falling apart, but some are actually better off, and that is a hard thing to wrap your head around! I loved how much it made me think and process that fact. Of course we would all grieve the loss of our husbands, fathers, sons, and friends, but who would survive best? And how would the world change without them? It is a heady batch of questions, but you will keep asking yourself these and many more as you continue with this fabulous series!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

What Would You Sacrifice?

Life in London hasn't been easy, but with strongholds going up to protect the kids who survived, everyone stops thinking about not getting eaten on a daily basis and starts thinking about how to put their lives back together. In the fourth book of Charlie Higson's Enemy series, The Sacrifice, the kids of London have to remember, danger is all around them. 

Little Sam survived being kept by an adult for a future snack, but now all he can think about is finding his sister. It is so hard to get from one place to another that friends and family members are scattered in strongholds all over the city. Jordan won't let him leave, but Sam is determined to get to his sister. Even Ed, the nicest guy around, thinks the idea of traipsing across the badlands to find a girl who might already be dead is a bad idea. When the group saves a strange girl named Tish from a horde of sickos, Sam and The Kid get the opportunity they were looking for: a girl with the gumption and determination to leave the Tower of London and help Sam and The Kid find Sam's sister, Ella. 

Meanwhile, Shadowman has been doing some traveling of his own. He has been following the nasty father, Saint George, and George's crew. He is the only on who knows the scary new potential of the mothers and fathers. No longer the stupid, shambling, mindless eaters, they have started to hunt and plot against the surviving kids. Something even more dangerous is happening- they are also beginning to congregate and Saint George's group is getting larger and larger. Soon, they will have the numbers and power to overthrow even the most secure stronghold in London. The problem? The kids Shadowman comes into contact with don't believe the adults are changing... until it is too late. 

My pet peeves with this series continue to be frustrating, but at least one has been mitigated. I still struggle to pick up one of these books and get right into it because there isn't a good recap in the beginning. I find myself looking up a plot summary for the previous book and reading reviews to remind myself what happened in the book I read more than a year ago. Not ideal. I really wish Higson did a better job of taking a moment to catch you up before jumping right into the insanity, just so I knew what was bloody happening! However, it seems the last two books have gone in chronological order, which I appreciate. At first, the books bounced around, but lately, one follows the next, which makes it far easier for the reader to understand exactly when and where things are happening. 

As a story, this series just never lets up. Even though it is a long series, every book is packed with mystery and excitement (or terror). I find myself sucked right in and reluctant to let go. The idea of the adults learning to reason again and plot against the kids is a thought so creepy it gave me actual nightmares! I think this series continues to be a strong plot, writing, and entertainment form the first book to the last, and I think that is a testament to Higson's writing. It just doesn't get old with this series! I think my favorite part of this story is Sam and The Kid, as they are so sweet and innocent yet left to fend for themselves in this ugly world where the flesh-eating adults are the least of your worries. Still, the Shadowman story line is fascinating as well. I can't imagine having all this important knowledge and no one listening to you. He warns kids over and over again not to underestimate Saint George and his crew, but they just won't listen to him, and his guilt over watching the result is palpable. 

This series can certainly be gruesome at times, but if you have a kid who watches "The Walking Dead," or any other zombie stories, they should be fine with this series. The interesting part is the complete lack of sexy times so far. I find more parents and teachers find the sexy times to be more objectionable than the violence, so this story would make a great, captivating story that is relatively unobjectionable for readers craving more mature material. Even though the book is long, it reads really fast, which makes it perfect for a struggling reader who wants mature material. Higson sure knows his stuff!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Why Be the Last Man?

Some ladies might think a world without men would be far more peaceful, but there would be huge changes to the structure of the world without men, and the continuation of the species would be the last thing on everyone's mind. In the first volume of Y: The Last Man, Unmanned, by Brian K. Vaughan, the world loses every male mammal... except two. 

Yorick has a smoking hot girlfriend who is currently traipsing around the Outback, but he fully intends on proposing to her. Meanwhile, his mother is trying to hold her own in Congress, and his sister, Hero, is living up to her name as an EMT. Everything seems normal. Normal, until everything isn't. All of a sudden, every man and male mammal in the world dies. Women around the globe watch their fathers, sons, husband, friends, coworkers, etc. drop dead in front of their eyes. Everyone, that is, except Yorick. A borderline agoraphobic, Yorick doesn't really leave his apartment. He offered to train a service monkey to help handicapped people, but so far the only thing he has accomplished is ducking when Ampersand flings his poo at Yorick's head. 

Yorick is a goofball, and certainly not anyone's idea of the epitome of the last man on earth, but he is all the human race has left. With all the men gone, the women have had to step in, but none can agree on how to run things. The Amazons believe the plague was the world's savior, and try to eliminate all chances of a baby boy ever being born. The few remaining members of Congress are trying to hold things together, but the wives of prominent Republicans don't agree with how they "took over the government." Meanwhile, there are millions of bodies of men just rotting in offices and apartments that have to be incinerated. The world has gone to hell in a handbag, and Yorick is the last hope for mankind?!

First of all, I have read this series before. It was quite some time ago, and I loved it so much, I certainly did not take my time to savor it. After having finished all of Vaughan's Saga so far, I needed more of his genius, so I decided to reread this series, and I am so glad I did. It really is brilliant. First of all, Yorick is awesome. He is a total screw-up, but you won't be able to resist his delightful, scampish charm! Seriously. Yorick is absurd and fabulous all in one, and I just LOVE him SO much! So, the idea that this knucklehead is the last man on earth makes this series even more spectacular. 

Add to that the great illustrations (not as stunning as Saga, but pretty darned good) and an incredible story line, and you have yourself one winning graphic novel series here. My only regret for purchasing these is that I couldn't control myself and wait for the hardcovers, because I imagine I will be rereading this series frequently. This volume is the basic backstory leading up to the death of all men, and the beginning of Yorick's travels. It will give you a good snapshot of the world without men, but it doesn't get to the heart of the story... for that you need Volume 2!!

How Can You Kill the Buzz?!

There are enough mysteries about high school without adding murder to the list. When Millie stumbles upon a body, she becomes embroiled in murder mystery she never wanted to be in the middle of in the first place... especially because the victim had direct ties to her father. In Beth Fantaskey's Buzz Kill, the sleuthing rivals Nancy Drew!

Millie Ostermeyer lives with her father. She loves her father, but as the Assistant Coach of a big high school football team, his time is generally consumed by the goings-on of the sport. She has worried about him since her mother passed away, but he isn't exactly an open book, so she gives him his space. When her father's nemesis, the head Coach Killdare, is found dead on campus, Millie is not only traumatized since she was the one who found the body- she is worried that all the signs point to her father as being the one with real motive to do away with the jerky head coach.

Millie's unlikely partner-in-crime, the new and mysterious football star who doesn't seem to fit the mold of typical high school star athlete, helps her to uncover some of the secrets Killdare kept from everyone around him. The further she digs, the clearer it becomes that this murder is more mysterious than she ever thought it could be. Unfortunately, her father is still in the crosshairs of both the local police department and Millie's own nemesis, her arch-enemy on the school paper, is hellbent on making her father look guilty. She has to get to the bottom of the story and quickly if she has any hope of saving her father's reputation... and keeping him out of jail!

I loved Fantaskey's Jessica series. I hated the cover, and I thought the title was a total cheese-fest, but the characters were really fun and unique, and I loved the story itself! I mean, laugh-out-loud kind of awesomeness! So, I was thrilled to see her come out with something that had a great premise, a good title, and a far better cover (although it does feel a little hokey). But, my experience with her writing said I was going to like this story, and I really did! I have to say, however, it was certainly a little campy at times, and I think the campiest parts were with Millie. She was less unique than the characters in the Jessica series, and a little more of a "type," but I still liked her. Chase, however, was my favorite part of this story. There was a boy with a past that I couldn't wait to learn about. He did not fit any stereotype, and I was intrigued from the moment Millie laid eyes on him. Even Millie's dad and Killdare were great characters. She just wasn't as awesome for me as they were, which was a little hard since the book was about her!

The good part was the plot and the pacing was a lot of fun. It was just mysterious enough to hold your attention without being silly or too predictable. There was a lot at stake for Millie, and she took her job of sleuthing very, very seriously. In fact, you are going to see some references to Nancy Drew, which I appreciated because it pointed out the elephant in the room. Everything about the story felt very Nancy Drew, so it was important to acknowledge that fact rather than pretend it didn't exist. Overall, this book continues my love for Fantaskey, even though Millie wasn't my favorite character ever, and I will keep an eye out for this author's next project!