Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports by James Patterson

The (sort of) final book in the series (at least the fugitives series) in some ways lives up to expectations and in other ways disappoints. I’m glad it isn’t the actual end of the series because there are still questions unanswered.

The things I didn’t like:

    The dynamic of the flock splitting up because of Ari is interesting, but this book ends up a lot slower because of it. Mostly, Fang’s website-get the kids of the world involved plan is sort of lame. And it just felt a little too easy. Getting so many of them involved and then them basically saving the day was nowhere near as satisfying as the end could have been. And the actual siblings splitting up with the possibility of never seeing each other again. Not sure I buy that either.
    The Martinez storyline was a little too convenient. Okay, a lot too convenient.
    The one thing I don’t get is how Max didn’t question the Voice or ask for any means of “proof” of goodwill. I also didn’t get the whole Max as an Eraser thing, but from what I understand, the story isn’t over.
    There was a missed opportunity with all those recombinants that they saved in book two.

That being said, there were good points too. I like the battle between Max and the perfect soldier and Angel’s betrayal. Basically, you come out of this thinking, you never can know who you trust.

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Bearers of the Black Staff by Terry Brooks

I got a pleasant surprise while in the airport, discovering that Terry Brooks’s newest book had come out earlier than I’d expected. Naturally, I had to buy it on the spot (even though I undoubtedly could have gotten it cheaper elsewhere). Good thing too, since my flight got delayed about 4 hours and while most of the other passengers were complaining and upset, I was back in my favorite fantasy world: Shannara. Terry Brooks is the author that really got me to start reading long fantasy series. My dad suggested the series to me when I was in high school and I have since read every book he’s written (except his On Writing book, which I do intend to get).

Bearers of the Black Staff picks up five hundred years after the last series ended–Hawk led a group of people, Elves, and some mutants (Lizards and Spiders) to a valley and then became the mist that protected them from the nuclear Armageddon taking place outside. Now you’d think that the races would learn their lessons (namely, to live in harmony together rather than separate, to do their part to restore the land, to restore the use of magic, to foster a community rather than hate…), but of course, that would be wishful thinking. Instead, the races divvy up the valley (which is really a series of valleys) and create very separate communities. And now, the mists are failing. The people Hawk saved must band together in order to deal with whatever has survived beyond their bubble, but can they do it in time?

Prue and Panterra are extremely young to be Trackers, but their unique gifts (Pan’s ability to always discern a trail and Prue’s ability to detect danger, much like Candle from the previous series) have earned them a spot in this elite group. While out, they discover that two of their colleagues have been killed by a creature they’ve never seen before. They decide to track the creature and luckily, they aren’t the only ones. Sider Ament, the last Bearer of the Black Staff (and thus a guardian of the people in the valley), was tracking this creature as well, just in time to save their lives. This sets them on a dangerous journey to warn the races that the barriers are failing, but there is a challenge. Much of Mankind has dubbed themselves the Children of Hawk and strictly believe that Hawk will return to lead them out of the valley. The information Pan and Prue bring directly contradicts this belief, which is not tolerated. It isn’t easy to give up on beliefs passed down for 500 years. Fleeing for their lives, Pan and Prue try the Elves, hoping that they will listen since they do not believe in the Children of Hawk’s religion. But the Elves have their own troubles brewing, with an impetuous princess, a withdrawn king/father, and a queen who is “too young” and more than she seems. And the dangers beyond the valley are not willing to wait until these issues (and others) are sorted out.

My biggest complaint about this book is that Brooks has become predictable. (The last series’s ending, for example, was too similar to the Ellcrys storyline, which was unfortunate.) It felt like we’d seen a number of the plots before, even if not necessarily with this set of characters. So, Brooks, get yourself out of this formulaic writing and come up with something new and CRAZY!

That being said, I still enjoyed the book immensely. I thought that the writing was a bit stronger here than in the last series (perhaps just having fewer overall characters helps), which made it easier to immerse myself in. I wouldn’t recommend it to new readers who are unfamiliar with Brooks, because it isn’t his best, but for fans, this is a good one to add to the series. The thing I miss most is the complex character of Grianne Ohmsford or the magical issues of Brin and Jair, storylines which though not exactly ground breaking in the genre, have a lot of issues to work through. Sider Ament’s storyline was a bit obvious, though I am curious to learn more about Prue and Pan and it would be interesting to see Phryne grow up/mature.

Can’t wait for the next book.

Maximum Ride: School’s Out–Forever by James Patterson

While I can’t pretend to like the title of this book, I am definitely still liking the series. As it goes on it only seems to get stranger, more mysterious, and more complicated. As Max struggles to protect her flock from the Erasers (led by resentful child Ari who may or may not be her brother), she also tries to find out about their past and about her supposed destiny (which, if you missed book 1, is to save the world). Though the kids get a peak at what a normal life is like, it seems that this is not their destiny. Instead, they discover that the mystery of their lives extends even further.

Like Fablehaven, this is a book that sort of makes you paranoid about life. You can never really know who to trust and whenever you let your guard down you find yourself betrayed.

I like that the story is so fast paced and teeming with questions. You never know where things are going to take you. (I can’t pretend to be shocked by many of the things that happen, but even so I still enjoy.)

While I like the format of the story no better than when I read book 1, I’m used to it now and it at least didn’t bother me as much. I’m looking forward to seeing where the series goes, and luckily, there are a number of other books sort of in this series (about Max and co but technically a different series) to read.

Protector of the Small: First Test, Page, Squire, and Lady Knight (Books 1-4) by Tamora Pierce

Yet another enjoyable series by Tamora Pierce. Also set in the Tortall universe, this series is all about knighthood.

Book 1: Alanna the Lioness became a knight by pretending to be a boy through training and managed to become such a strong knight that she became the king’s champion. The king ruled that girls could now train to be knights if they desired, but for ten long years, no girl ever dared. Until Keladry of Mindelan. But the training master is not thrilled to be training a girl and convinces the king to put Kel on a one year probation (and forbid Alanna to see her). The odds are stacked against her and it doesn’t help that the boys aren’t happy to have a girl training alongside them. With so little support, can Kel make it through her first year?

(Skip ahead to after book 4 if you don’t want anything ruined.)

Book 2: Having managed to surpass all expectations, we follow Kel through the rest of her time as a page (three years). It seems like even though she’s made it passed year one, she may not make it through the rest in order to become a squire. She may have made some friends, but that doesn’t mean everyone is rooting for her success. Many are still reluctant to believe that a girl could ever be as worthy a knight as a boy (regardless of Alanna the Lioness’s successes). What I don’t like about this one is that so much time is compressed into such a short amount of pages, making it harder to get engrossed in her story. Despite book 2 feeling rushed, I found myself really liking it.

Book 3: Finally, Kel has made it through her page years and is a squire. But will any of the knights in the realm want to take on “The Girl” as their apprentice? It certainly doesn’t look like it, until Raoul of Goldenlake, chief commander of the King’s Own, decides to take her on. (As a close friend of Alanna’s through training, he knows what a girl can do.) Her time as a squire isn’t easy, in no small part because of the baby griffin she acquires along the way and a first romance. But the real thing worrying her is the Ordeal of Knighthood, which all Squires must complete in order to become a knight. Like the last book, this one felt a bit rushed, but is also filled with lots of intrigue and excitement. (Without ruining it, I will say that the best part of this book for me was the ending, when the one meeting you’re waiting for finally happens.)

Book 4: Kel has finally managed to become a knight, but a haunting image given to her by the Chamber of Ordeal haunts her. She is told that she must find a man who uses children’s spirits to fashion dangerous war weapons. The kingdom is drawn into a war with the Scanrans. She wants to go out and find this man but is instead relegated to a run a refugee camp. She is torn between her sense of duty to the refugees she protects and the quest the chamber has set for her that could help Tortall win the war.

Kel is like Beka Cooper, of Pierce’s newest Tortall series, determined to protect the innocent, strong and uncompromising. These characteristics serve her well because without them, she would have no chance of making it through her first year, much less the entire training to become a knight. Kel is a fun and admirable character, making her easy to root for in this male-oriented society.

Pierce has shown herself to be an excellent writer and I look forward to the rest of the books I can find by her.

Ranger’s Apprentice: Books 2-6 by John Flanagan

Will grew up as an unnamed orphan, but when he is invited to train to be a ranger–the mysterious guardians of the realm–his life changes forever. The series follows his adventures and missteps as he trains to become a ranger and then after he achieves this goal.

I find myself both enjoying this series while also being somewhat disappointed by it. Flanagan is a solid writer and his plots are interesting. We relate to the characters easily and cheer on Will in his endeavor to become a Ranger, which he quickly learns, is the job truly meant for him.

But while the series has its strengths, it has a number of weaknesses too. For one thing, it doesn’t feel like a series, but rather like a bunch of books that are tenuously connected. Most of the books lead into the events of the next one, but otherwise, their story lines are barely connected. It doesn’t feel like there is a bigger story building (which isn’t necessarily a requirement, but I think it’s an added element that could really strengthen the story).

Often Flanagan introduces a character and a relationship and then lets it drop by the wayside or brings someone in who we’d like to know more about and then we don’t see them for a while. Even Halt disappears later in the series.

The thing that bugs me most though, is that by book 6, Will is no longer an apprentice but a full fledged ranger. It’s called RANGER’S APPRENTICE! And we miss out on years of Will’s training. I think this is a missed opportunity.

Flanagan says that he just writes books as he thinks up stories, which I think is clear from the books. I’d love to see a bigger, overarching story and some more continuity from one book to the next. Keep in the characters we know and care about. Despite these issues, I’m still enjoying and intend to read more, but I’m hoping to see a bit of an improvement.

Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

What turned me on to this book, was actually Patterson’s other book Witch and Wizard. There was a free iPod app where you could get a free excerpt, that I began reading and liked (but didn’t want to buy the book while it was only sold in hardcover since I didn’t like it that much), so I decided to try out one of his other books instead (while I waited).

Maximum Ride is sort of like James Cameron’s Dark Angel (even has the same name for the main character!), if you remember that TV show. (Interestingly, Patterson says he actually took it from a different book he wrote with a main character named Max, though the two books are not related.) It follows a bunch of kids who were raised as test subjects in a lab. They were genetically engineered so that their DNA was combined with a bird’s (unlike Max in DA, whose DNA was combined with a cat). One of the things this genetic combination does is provide main character Max, and her small “family” with wings that allows them to fly. They are also much stronger than the average adult, despite being kids. And, they have other, stranger abilities, such as mind reading and voice mimicry, among other things (there seems to be no rhyme or reason to who has what ability, but I suppose we learn more about that in later books. Book 1 of this series follows Max (the de facto leader) and her five mutant siblings as they try to hide from the people who created them, when the youngest, Angel, is captured by the Erasers (half-wolf, half-human mutants) and brought back to the lab, called the School. The rest of the flock is determined to rescue Angel and discover more about themselves, like if they had parents and where they are from and how long they can expect to survive. But some things they may not be ready to learn–like who betrayed them and Max’s “destiny” to save the world.

Patterson does an excellent job of mixing the child-like confusion and emotions of our heroes with strength and determination, making them kids we can’t help but root for. Each of the kids has unique abilities and somewhat distinct personalities (though some more than others, which is not surprising when you have so many main characters) that are likable. You can’t help but root for them. But he also does a good job of adding a spark of humanity into some of the villains, so that while you hope they lose, you also feel a little bit bad. (I would have appreciated a little more of an insight into Ari’s character, but I’m glad we got a glimpse.)

Perhaps my biggest complaint with the book would be its structure. Before the book begins, there is a letter addressed to the reader, written by Max, warning us about what we will read and how important she feels it is that we read it anyway. 85% of the book follows in first person fashion, from Max’s perspective, but on occasion, the book jumps to third person to allow it to follow the characters who are not with Max at the moment. While I agree that those parts of the book are best included, I do not like the jump of perspective. I would prefer to simply follow the entire thing in third person or have him figure out a way to keep it first person throughout. As far as things go, it’s a pretty small complaint because even though it bothered me intellectually, it didn’t really ruin the flow of the book.

From the segments I’ve read of Witch and Wizard, I find this to be the more compelling read and cannot wait to see where the adventure goes.