Book Review: Matt Archer: Monster Hunter by Kendra Highley

Bottom Line: A gritty YA fantasy definitely worth the read.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

Fourteen-year-old Matt Archer spends his days studying Algebra, hanging out with his best friend and crushing on the Goddess of Greenhill High, Ella Mitchell. To be honest, he thinks his life is pretty lame until he discovers something terrifying on a weekend camping trip at the local state park.

Monsters are real. And living in his backyard.

But that’s not the half of it. After Matt is forced to kill a strange creature to save his uncle, he finds out that the weird knife he took from his uncle’s bag has a secret, one that will change Matt’s life. The knife was designed with one purpose: to hunt monsters. And it’s chosen Matt as its wielder.

Now Matt’s part of a world he didn’t know existed, working with a covert military unit dedicated to eliminating walking nightmares. Faced with a prophecy about a looming dark war, Matt soon realizes his upcoming Algebra test is the least of his worries.

His new double life leaves Matt wondering which is tougher: hunting monsters or asking Ella Mitchell for a date?

Review:

This is one of those books that languished on my Kindle for a very long time. I’d grabbed it on sale, but just didn’t get started on it for one reason or another. Then I found myself stranded in an airport for several hours one Saturday morning – WITHOUT my toddler – and I have to say, those were pretty much the most relaxing hours I’ve had since December 2012, when said toddler entered my life. I sat in an airport restaurant, drank my weight in tea, and read Matt Archer: Monster Hunter.

It was very, very good. It’s the classic YA tale of a normal teenager finding out he has powers, and must use them to fight for his family and his world. However, there were a few things done differently that I thought elevated it above the general YA fantasy offering. I loved that adults are fighting the evil as well, and they are mostly skeptical of bringing this kid into the mix. It seemed much more realistic than say, the Percy Jackson books, where the issue of “but where are all the adult demigods and why aren’t they doing anything?” is pretty much glossed over. I also loved its international outlook. Matt’s an American kid, and the story is based in America, but instead of everything happening in the states, there are incidents popping up all over the world.

Another issue I have with some YA fantasy series is that so often it feels like watching an old school video game. Each book is a level, and you have to make it to the end of the level to fight the boss, and then you start a new level with its boss,  then at the end of the whole game, you fight the big boss. Each book neatly wraps up one year of school or a summer between school years, with the bad guys conveniently making their move during finals or right before school starts up again, depending on the series. And while I understand authors wanting to contribute to the overarching series plot, while giving readers closure during the individual books as well, it so often just feels contrived. Matt Archer’s plot moved along in a very natural progression. He’s fighting monsters, and he’s also going to school, but it didn’t feel like the monsters were timing their attacks around the school year.

Ranting aside, Matt feels like a very realistic teenage boy. He’s likeable, has character flaws, and reacts in a very believable way to all the weird stuff that has now become his life. I loved his family and friends and hope we get to know them better.

The author, Kendra Highley (who I can claim to know slightly through the power of social media – and is a lovely person as well as talented author), was in the process of releasing the fifth and last book in the series while I was reading the first, so I’m excited to have a completed series to plow through as time, energy, and budget allows. I am a little nervous to do so because this book started off grittier and more intense (and with an older protagonist) than many YA series, and I’m guessing it follows the pattern of becoming darker as the story progresses. I don’t handle stress all that well in general, and definitely not when I’m pregnant. I mostly want everything to be rainbows and sunshine and unicorns. I’m pretty sure people are going to die in this series…people I like. Oh well.

If you like YA fantasy, this is a book that must not be missed!

Get it: Amazon, Barnes and Noble

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Family Fridays – Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Ages: 9 and up

Blurb for the first book:

The Lightning Thief

After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There’s little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.

Review:  

I will try very hard to restrain my enthusiasm during this post, or we could all be here for a while. At least I would be, the rest of you would probably give up and head to greener pastures after the first 1,000 words. The Percy Jackson series is one of my all time favorite series. Though written for middle school aged children, the books appeal to children, teenagers, young adults, and not so young adults. They are, quite simply, amazing. The characters are more lifelike than just about any other author’s I can think of (Lindsay Buroker being another excellent example). Percy’s narration is clever, hilarious, snarky, and maintains a very realistic voice for an early teens boy. The world building is interesting, unique, and thorough without being overwhelming or tedious. The plots are well executed and you see characters develop (and not just physically) throughout the series.

Another thing I liked about it: Percy and most of the rest of the demigod children are ADHD and Dyslexic. Riordan takes these challenges and turns them into advantages in Percy’s new reality. I love that – a reminder that not all of us are wired the same way, and that can be a good thing. Also, in a later series, one of the demigods is lactose intolerant. Represent!

Something you see quite often with book series written for this age group is that the themes and characters become more mature and darker as the series progresses. Here there is a little bit of that, but not nearly as much as, say, Harry Potter. A child who can handle the first book emotionally will be able to handle the last book as well, which is not necessarily the case with the Harry Potter series. The bottom line is that I cannot think of anything negative to say about these books. Some books you just read with a big smile on your face, and for me, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books are way at the top of that list.

Random side notes:

The five books in this series in order are:

  1. The Lightning Thief  Get it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble
  2. The Sea of Monsters Get it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble
  3. The Titan’s Curse –  Get it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble
  4. The Battle of the Labyrinth  Get it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble
  5. The Last Olympian –  Get it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble

There is a continuing series, The Heroes of Olympus, which features some of the Camp Halfblood gang as well as some new characters. It is also excellent, but even though the age ranges given for it at various online sources is the same as the original series, it feels older to me (the characters are in high school now and, for example, focuses more on girlfriend/boyfriend relationships) – not a bad thing, but something to be aware of if you started Percy Jackson with children on the younger end of the spectrum.

I debated on whether to make this a regular post or a Family Fridays post. Although I feel like any age of fantasy (or even book) lover would be able to enjoy this series, I decided to post it under FFs because this is something the whole family could enjoy together.

Riordan sold the creative rights to the movies, had nothing to do with them, and claims he hasn’t even watched them. As of now only the first movie is out, with plans to release the second later this year. The first movie was terrible. I cannot even begin to describe how much I hated it. They took much of what made the book so great and either ignored it or did the opposite. In the interests of fairness, I have met people who really liked the movie. Get it, if you must, from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Riordan also has an adult mystery series, which is quite good, but not something I’d care to read with a nine year old. So make sure you know which brand of Riordan you’re getting.

Whew – kept it under a thousand words…but not by much.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of Divergent by Veronica Roth (2011) (Divergent Book 1)

Bottom line: Reading Divergent is like watching a good action movie: it’s not really about the plot, it’s about the heroes and their journey.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Debut author Veronica Roth bursts onto the literary scene with the first book in the Divergent series—dystopian thrillers filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayals, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.

Review:

This book is a great read. Among its strengths are characters, action and general get-sucked-in-ness (it’s my blog, I can make up words if I want to). One of the things I liked the least about it was the implausibility of some of the plot points/storyline timing. There are a LOT of “just happened to be at the right place right time” to prevent a murder, or overhear a sinister plot, etc. kinds of things. However, I found that because I was sucked into the world and interested in the characters, I didn’t really notice the plot/timing issues until I read the book for the second time.

I was going to try to review the book without mentioning the Hunger Games, but I don’t think I can. There are some definite similarities between this book and the Hunger Games, and with the incredible popularity of the latter, it is a natural comparison point. In fact, if a friend asked me for a one sentence review of Divergent, I’d probably say “it’s kind of like The Hunger Games, but with more kissing.” It also reminded me of Lois Lowry’s The Giver (a dystopian children’s book –fantastic!), but I never felt like I was reading a rip off of either of those stories. Overall, it’s just a fun ride and definitely a page turner. I wouldn’t recommend starting this book late at night or you might be up for a long time.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes.

Side note: This is the first of a trilogy. Book 2, Insurgent (Amazon, Barnes & Noble), is available. I read it the day after reading Divergent, and was much less impressed. I often find second books in series to be lacking, and that was the case here. There was a lot of tension between characters – distrust, secrets, lies, etc., which felt forced rather than just letting the story unfold. Plot-wise it actually felt tighter and more realistic (to me at least), but the unnecessary character drama just stressed me out.  However, I’m still excited about the release of Book 3 (currently set for “a year or so”) and hope it’s more in line with the first book.

More Info: Check out the author’s blog here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Review of The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

Bottom line: Fast paced action, compelling characters, unexpected twists and turns in the plot and an all around great read for all three books.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Review:

The Hunger Games books are intense. I read all three books in one night, racing from one to the next to see how it was all going to end. They feel more like one book in three volumes, so if you’re interested in reading them, I’d recommend setting aside a couple of days to just have at it.

They’re very, very good. The first book was my favorite, followed by the second and then the third (which seems apt). I wasn’t crazy about the ending – not the outcome, but the way it happened. It just felt very abrupt, and then the epilogue felt a bit disconnected. Other than that, there were very few things to dislike about the series. The whole story is told from the first person narrative of Katniss, and you follow her journey as she volunteers to fight in the Hunger Games to save her sister, and then all that happens after. I don’t know if I could call it one of my favorite elements, but I felt one of the most compelling elements was how damaged the participants in the Hunger Games become. Often, it seems like the heroes and heroines of novels go from normal person to deadly killing machine to back again with no mental trauma whatsoever. Whereas you can really see the effect these events have on Katniss.

The Hunger Games books are technically young adult, but make no mistake – there is a lot of violence and death throughout the books, and the themes being dealt with are mature as well. What is worth fighting, dying, or worse, condemning those you love to death for? When do the ends justify the means? How much peripheral damage is acceptable to achieve your goal? Who can be trusted with power? Who can be trusted, period?

Katniss was someone I wasn’t sure I would want to be friends with (I’d call her more admirable than likeable – she’s fairly cold and calculating), but the way the books are written really draw you into her head and her struggles to deal with the new reality she’s been pulled into with the Hunger games. It’s a well thought out post-apocalyptic world, and seems very believable.  The plot, combined with the setting and characters make it a completely absorbing read.

See my review of the movie here.

Books in order:

Book 1: The Hunger Games (2008) – Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

Book 2: Catching Fire (2009) – Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Book 3: Mockingjay (2010) – Get it! Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Sidenote: My husband listened to all three Hunger Games books on Audible and enjoyed them.

What did you think? Did you like the series?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Harry Potter Series Now Available in E-book Formats…

…but they’re not going to make it easy for you.

If you want to get the e-books ($7.99 for the first three, $9.99 for the last four) you can find them on most sites that sell e-books (including Amazon and B&N), but to complete the purchase, you get routed to the “Pottermore” shop where you have to set up an account to finally get your book.

On the plus side when you buy any of all of these books, you can download it to just about any device out there – Kindle, Nook, iPhone/iPad, home computers, etc. On the downside, you have to go through the rigamarole mentioned above. Granted, none of this should take very long, but I hate having to set up accounts to buy things. As long as I’m giving you my money in exchange for your product, why should I have to register myself in addition to all the personal details you get when I put in my credit card info? Also, as a Kindle user myself, I love the “one click buy” button. I find what I want, click a button, and it magically shows up on my Kindle a few seconds later. You can’t get any easier than that.

Another downside is the price. I don’t buy many books (paper books or e-books), but I finally broke down and bought the Harry Potter series a few months ago from Barnes & Noble. I paid on average less than $6 per book – and they would have cost a lot more to produce than an e-book.

I’m glad that these books are now available (legally) for e-readers.I respect Rowling for getting the most money she can for her work. But I won’t be buying them anytime soon.

Anyone bought the e-books? Are they worth it?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross (2011) (The Steampunk Chronicles – Book 1)

Bottom line: An intriguing first full-length installment of the series. I had a few complaints about the writing, but the story was very entertaining. I’d recommend reading The Strange Case of Finley Jayne first (although you don’t need it for The Girl in the Steel Corset to make sense) because it’s free and if you like that, you should definitely give this one a shot.

Rating: Recommended

Blurb:

In 1897 England, sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne has no one…except the “thing” inside her.

When a young lord tries to take advantage of Finley, she fights back. And wins. But no normal Victorian girl has a darker side that makes her capable of knocking out a full-grown man with one punch….

Only Griffin King sees the magical darkness inside her that says she’s special, says she’s one of them. The orphaned duke takes her in from the gaslit streets against the wishes of his band of misfits: Emily, who has her own special abilities and an unrequited love for Sam, who is part robot; and Jasper, an American cowboy with a shadowy secret.

Griffin’s investigating a criminal called The Machinist, the mastermind behind several recent crimes by automatons. Finley thinks she can help—and finally be a part of something, finally fit in.

But The Machinist wants to tear Griff’s little company of strays apart, and it isn’t long before trust is tested on all sides. At least Finley knows whose side she’s on—even if it seems no one believes her.

Review:

The Girl in the Steel Corset continues the saga of Finley Jayne (introduced in the novella The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, review here), a girl with supernatural abilities. I found myself caught up in the plot and enjoying the characters. However, I was a little disappointed in the writing itself. I had been impressed with the author’s writing in her previous book, and was surprised to find that here I occasionally found it distracting. Normally when I read, I’m completely immersed in the book, but I kept being interrupted by thoughts like “wait, didn’t she describe the other guy in that exact same way?” “didn’t that other character say something the same thing to this same girl?” and “does EVERYONE in this book have a crooked smile?”. There are also some inconsistencies with the characters. It seems like this book could have benefited from one more pass by an editor – tighten up the writing and maybe decrease the amount of time spent on some of the subplots.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the read – I did, and I’ve read it a couple more times since the first time. I think it is a testament to Cross’s skill as a storyteller that the writing quirks were not as apparent on the first read through. At least for me, I was so caught up in the story the first time around that I didn’t notice as many of them, and then in the subsequent reads, as I became more familiar with the story, I noticed the writing more, and parts of it started to annoy me. There was a lot of ground covered – in addition to introducing all the members of the team to each other and the readers, and getting many of their back stories, there is the mystery to solve of what the bad guy is up to and how to stop him. I’m still excited to read the next book in the series (The Girl in the Clockwork Collar, due out June 2012), but I’m hoping the writing will be a little more polished and that the book will feel more seamless.

Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes

More Info: Check out the author’s website here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Review of The Strange Case of Finley Jayne by Kady Cross (Steampunk Chronicles – Prequel) (2011)

Bottom line: This novella is a wonderful introduction not only to the Steampunk Chronicles series, but to the steampunk genre itself. If you’ve been wanting to try out steampunk, wondered what it was, or just want a fun, well written book to read, give this one a shot. Also, it’s free!

Update 7/1/2013: Not currently a free book.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Blurb:

Finley Jayne knows she’s not ‘normal’. Normal girls don’t lose time, or have something inside them that makes them capable of remarkably violent things. Her behavior has already cost her one job, so when she’s offered the lofty position of companion to Phoebe, a debutante recently engaged to Lord Vincent, she accepts, despite having no experience. Lord Vincent is a man of science with his automatons and inventions, but Finley is suspicious of his motives where Phoebe is concerned. She will do anything to protect her new friend, but what she discovers is even more monstrous than anything she could have imagined…

Review:

I downloaded this novella because it was free, and when I finished, I immediately went and bought the next book (first book? this one is a prequel – can I call it book zero?) in the series (book one review forthcoming). I would have bought the next one, too, but it won’t be out until June 2012.

I was impressed for a lot of reasons. For one thing, I often find that short stories/novellas feel incomplete – you are barely introduced to some characters, a plot is thrown together, and then it’s over. That was certainly not the case with this book. There is a good balance of time spent developing the characters and the world, and while the plot moves quickly, it doesn’t feel rushed. The heroine is a well written, strong female character, who’s struggling to come to terms with her unique capabilities and whether they are a blessing or a curse.

This is definitely in the steampunk genre – the setting is a late 1800s London with steam powered devices, automaton servants and interesting gadgets. All these things are mentioned and discussed a bit, but not harped on – thank goodness. I tend to get a bit glassy eyed over too many intricate details.

Available: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iTunes.

More Info: Check out the author’s website here.

What did you think? Did you like the book?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.