Song of Ice and Fire: A Clash of Kings (Book 2) by George R. R. Martin

Book two picks up right where Game of Thrones left off–Arya is on the run with the Night’s Watch, Sansa is held captive by child king Joffrey, Robb leads an army against the Lannisters, Bran holds down the fort at home, Jon has gone beyond the wall, Theon has returned home to take his rightful place as heir, Stannis and Renley are gathering their respective armies in order to claim the throne of the Seven Kingdoms for themselves, and Danny prepares her Dothraki forces. The book is as complicated as it sounds. Not that it is a bad thing. Part of the draw for this book is the utterly complex political situation set in the backdrop of a fantastical world where magic exists but is not in abundance (a rarity in fantasy).

One of the things that Martin does best with his characters and stories is the complexity of the story. Right and wrong is not nearly as obvious as other books tend to make it. Sure the Lannisters (minus Tyrion) are pretty awful, but for the most part, everyone has understandable if not honorable motives. In book one we saw Ned Stark struggle with honor and by remaining so rigid he end up losing his life and putting his children in trouble. Was that the right idea or should he have bent, at least a little, until he could better plan? Similar issues are grappled with in this book: Should Robb bend to the Lannisters to save his sisters? Should Theon be more loyal to the Starks who raised him despite being held essentially captive or should he attempt to reclaim his place with his true family? Should you stay aligned to a lord or a family member when you don’t believe in the methods they employ?

Arya is still one of my favorites, for her strength and ingenuity. Even Sansa is growing on me, though despite all that’s going on she somehow clings to her romantic ideals which gets a little frustrating. It felt like we could have gone deeper into Theon’s internal struggle, which is more complex than perhaps any other character’s in the book. The one character I really cared nothing for was Davos who seemed like a random character used more for plot device than because we were supposed to connect or care about him in any way.

Though it felt like some of the plot was rushed (dealing with Renly in particular seemed to come and go so quickly it was hardly worth having him involved in the first place), it was generally full of well-paced action. Not quite as many shocks as book one, but still an enjoyable read.

Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception (Book 4) by Eoin Colfer

The brilliant thing about the book before this is that at the point where Artemis was becoming less criminal mastermind and more all around nice guy, Colfer built in a sort of reset button, which in turn impacts the events of this book.

Opal Koboi is back with a bigger, more dangerous plan. But most importantly, she wants revenge on all the people responsible for her former downfall. Artemis is out of the picture thanks to his mind-wipe (he doesn’t remember his time with faeries and all the changes he has undergone have been lost as a result). When Opal frames Holly–turning the LEPrecon captain into a fugitive–who can she turn to for help?

The story is perhaps the most complex of the series thus far, with complicated breakouts, new information about fairy creatures, more insight into the underworld we have been coming to know, and hi-tech machinery. Though I might have hoped for slightly less craziness (it seems surprisingly easy to break out of fairy prisons considering how much more advances they are technologically), but the story remains true to the heart and emotion we have come to love.

I wasn’t as impacted by a specific character’s demise as I would have liked to be. We didn’t know quite as much as we might have about the character (whose name shall not be mentioned here) and therefore I didn’t feel as connected to that person as I could have. Perhaps if we had had a bit more time and information, but as it stands, it wasn’t as affecting as it might have been. That said, Colfer handles the aftermath of that death realistically and skillfully. Even though I couldn’t feel sad the way I was when say Dumbledore died, I did believe that the characters were sad, which was enough.

Maybe not the best book in the entire series, but still fun and enjoyable and definitely worth the read.

Uglies (Book 2): Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

In the follow up to Uglies, Tally has become a pretty. We all know why, but Tally doesn’t remember much about her last few days as an ugly or why she ended up pretty. There are a lot of things she isn’t sure of, thanks to a procedure that affects the brain. But events conspire to help Tally remember why she became pretty and how she can regain the clarity and understanding that was taken away from her in the operation.

The story remains imaginative and interesting. Westerfeld has delved into his world and let us see the inner workings of pretty town (which were as mysterious to us as to the uglies in book one). Seeing this helps fill in the details that were missing before.

Like in the first book, there are long stretches of time where Tally is alone or stuck in her head. Sometimes it gets a little slow because of this, but it does help portray just how different the operation makes a person.

Shay’s storyline is a bit shocking and I am not sure I truly believe her character would take the turn she does. I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to ruin it. (Perhaps if the change was a bit more gradual it would be a bit more believable, but it seems fairly sudden and very extreme considering who she was before.) In a way, it almost feels like it was done for shock value over anything else. It was a good twist, but not the most realistic one.

One of the more interesting elements of the book was the love triangle involved. Since Tally does not remember David much, it makes sense that she would fall for someone else in New Pretty Town. This is one storyline that I would have liked to see more of and it felt like when the issue could finally be confronted, so many other things were happening and we didn’t get a chance to really go into it. If I could change one thing about book two, it would have been that. Even one more day would have been nice.

The series remains exciting and I can’t wait to see where book three takes it. (As interesting as it would be on screen, it would probably be a nightmare to shoot with all the surgeries and physical changes each character must undergo. I suppose a really good makeup team might suffice.)

Soul Surfer by Bethany Hamilton

My friend and I were fascinated by Bethany Hamilton’s story when we were in high school. She even had a poster of Bethany on her wall. So naturally, when we heard about the movie coming out and realized she had written a book we had to see and read them immediately.

For those who don’t know it, Bethany Hamilton was a thirteen year old surfer from Hawaii who was attacked by a shark and lost her arm. Most people would have given up surfing at this point because having only one arm to paddle with is a major disadvantage in competition. But with a supportive family, community, and even world and her strong faith, she came back strong and is now a top ranking pro-surfer. Since the movie, the book has been updated to include her time on the movie set which is a fun addition if you watched the movie.

The book was written when she was only fourteen, a year after the attack. Her youth shows as the book does not really go in depth into the emotions and struggles she experienced. Much of the hard stuff–like how she adjusted to things like preparing food with one hand and competing with one arm–was glossed over. (The movie shows this poignantly.) Despite this obvious lack, the story is still inspirational. Her strength and resiliency (whether you care about faith and religion or not) is impressive and you cannot help but be touched by her story.

One thing I was slightly disappointed to note was that the cover (a shot taken from the movie) does not show her surfing with one arm. I am not surprised with this decision, but at the same time, it is as though they feel the need to hide it for fear that showing someone with only one arm will scare off consumers. What makes Bethany inspirational is that she doesn’t hide her injury (she doesn’t wear a prosthetic and she has never let one arm hold her back) and it seems like the publishers should have highlighted rather than hidden this on the cover.

Glee: Summer Break by Sophia Lowell

School is almost over and Rachel Berry is not willing to spend all summer letting her talents rot away. Instead, she had a star powered summer planned. But Mr. Schuester has other plans. He wants the Glee club to become counselors for a Youth Musical Camp. When Rachel hits her head, she gets a taste of what the stardom is all about. She returns to McKinley High for a performance and finds that nothing is the same.

For me, this was the weakest story of the three so far. Although there is character development, it is caused by what is clearly a dream (and a very unrealistic dream at that). On top of that, there is no goal or driving force to the story. Rachel has nothing specific she’s working for (sure there’s the general non-specific plan to become a famous Broadway star, but that isn’t really an immediately attainable goal, at least the way this is presented).

It would have been nice for them to make it clear when this story is meant to take place in the Glee world a little earlier. It isn’t until a few chapters in when they mention things that help you place it in the larger story. Yet even those details contradict with events on the show (such as various relationships and who is together when). The characters themselves seemed a bit more caricature than the true personalities we have come to know.

Much as I love Rachel, I would have liked to know more about the other characters (the other books usually spend a bit more time on everyone else but everyone’s issues were resolved within minutes).

Considering that dream stories are general the bane of an editor’s existence, I am surprised this story didn’t get stopped before it was written. Overall, this book doesn’t fit in with the fun reading of the other books. It lacks the substance and true character.

The Surgeon (A Jane Rizzoli book) by Tess Gerritsen

How do you catch a killer that has already been killed? That is the dilemma for Detectives Thomas Moore and Jane Rizzoli. A man sneaks into women’s bedrooms at night, cuts them open, rapes them, and ultimately kills them, earning him the nickname The Surgeon. His MO is exactly the same as those of a killer who was killed a few years ago, down to the details that were never released to the press. And his ultimate target may just be Dr. Catherine Cordell, the lone surviving victim from the previous crimes.

This mystery has so many strengths. It is edge of your seat thrilling, disgustingly terrifying, and full of surprises. The two detectives are grappling with their own problems–Moore’s wife died suddenly a couple of years ago and he has yet to move on and Rizzoli is working in a hostile environment where women are not welcome–and the book does a good job of bringing these issues full circle. While I don’t love where Moore’s story ended (it seems a little unrealistic and a bit convenient), I wasn’t distracted by this enough to be truly bothered.

What struck me about this is how different it is from the Rizzoli and Isles series on TV. For one thing, there is no Isles (apparently she comes into the series later). For another, Rizzoli is treated with hostility from the department, whereas in the show she is generally respected and her issues are more about her family and her personality.

If you are expecting the same lightheartedness of the TV show, you will not be finding it, but if you want an exciting mystery (and are not too squeamish), this is the book for you.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Tally Youngblood is about to turn sixteen, which means she can finally become pretty, like all of her friends before her. At sixteen, everyone has an operation to turn them into beautiful people and tally is the last. But until then, she has to kill time in Ugly Town, without her friends for company. Desperate to see her best friend Peris again, Tally sneaks over to New Pretty Town to see him and in the process meets Shay, another Ugly who is waiting for her sixteenth birthday. The two become quick friends, but when Shay disappears before her surgery, everything changes for Tally. The authorities insist that Tally help them find Shay, or she will have to stay Ugly forever.

Westerfeld does a masterful job of taking society’s obsessions with beauty to the extreme. He is particularly good at showing how flawed the obsession with beauty is and how brainwashed people are about it.

Tally was a realistic character who, unlike most book characters in these types of dystopian societies, is not a rebel. She likes to play some pranks, like any Ugly does, but at heart she truly does want to become a Pretty. It is only circumstances out of her control and the friends she meets that makes her begin to question this chosen path. (This makes her somewhat passive in the beginning, but she grows into an active character.)

The weakest point of the novel is a stretch of time where Tally is on her own. Having no conversation and companionship, though important to the story, makes things go a bit slowly for that section. However, any loss of pace there is quickly made up in the excitement that follows.

I would like to find out more about the country as a whole (we get a little bit of it, but for the most part we only really see Tally’s community) and what adulthood is like in this dystopian world. Since it is a four book series, I am sure there is more to come and already I have begun reading book two. This is definitely one of the better dystopian novels out (and came out slightly before this new obsession with this genre) and I highly recommend it.

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

After Sweet Valley Confidential was published, the immediate thought was what other great kids’ series would we like to see a Ten Years Later book from? I found myself thinking about the Babysitter’s Club or maybe Nancy Drew. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants did not top my list. Forever in Blue had felt like a satisfying conclusion to the series and it was such a recent series, but I am definitely not disappointed.

The book picks up just under ten years after we last saw them, and despite the happy ending of book four, their lives have taken a somewhat unexpected turn:

  • Carmen is a successful actress engaged to a self-centered jerk
  • Bridget is living with Eric but has a fear of commitment
  • Lena has isolated herself from the world
  • Tibby has moved to Australia with Brian and been MIA for a while

Though the girls have grown apart, a mysterious letter containing plane tickets to Greece sent by Tibby brings them back together again. What follows is a shocking, heartrending, and ultimately uplifting look at four girls who grew up best friends and have learned to contend with life together even when worlds apart.

If you haven’t read the other books, this one probably won’t make all that much sense to you. So much of the events are determined by the past four books. but if you did read and love the series, you will likely love this one. However, don’t expect it to be the same sunny, carefree books the others were. (Sure, they dealt with tough issues, but this is the book that truly tests the girls and confronts them with the harsh realities of life.) Sisterhood Everlasting is much darker, but therefore much more powerful.

Lena and Carmen remain my least favorite characters–their characters seem to have grown the least despite their past experiences–and Bridget continues to be my favorite–I have always been able to relate to her most. Luckily for me, Bridget has a particularly strong and dominant story.

The book was good enough to make me cry (even if not everything is completely realistic). It reminded me why the original books drew me in and left me hoping to get even more from the Sisterhood. It reminded me of Toy Story 3, all the nastalgia but with the heart to back it up.