Helen of Sparta, Making Her Own Fate

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Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella is a wonderfully written tale covering the period of time when Helen (daughter of Zeus and Leda) was the captive of Theseus (son of Poseidon and Aethra). While it does explore Helen’s character prior to her having met Theseus, this is really just the set up for the world as well as the characters.

Not only does Amalia show that she had done her research on the mythology surrounding Helen, but she does so by weaving a beautiful story to give the character (who may be known as Helen of Troy by some) time to tell her side of things. Helen is a strong female lead in this novel, having to fight the gods on whether her fate is sealed or of her own design. It’s heart wrenching, but also heart warming as she finds love and support in places she never thought she would.

While Helen of Sparta also follows Theseus through some of the middle chapters, it is still focused on Helen during that time, only going into depth in order to give the audience a better knowledge of how certain decisions were come to by the other major party in the story. It only builds up the novel, by giving the other characters depth, instead of scattering thoughts by having more than one point of view.

Overall I give Helen of Sparta 5/5 stars, recommending this novel to any mythology buff and/or anyone who enjoys a strong female lead. Beautifully constructed and wonderful depth given to characters glossed over in current mythology.

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The Maze Runner Trilogy: Keeping Your Hopes Up Until The Very End

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Overall The Maze Runner trilogy is a stunning dystopian storyline that follows young teens who are scrambling through tests, or “variables” that adults have created in order to test their brains. They are doing all they can just to survive while scientists try to come up with blueprints as to why their brains are different than everyone else’s when it comes to The Flare, a deadly disease let loose on the world. I am most definitely a fan of the series, although it did take me forever to finish the last book in the trilogy (The Death Cure), due to a deterioration in storyline.

The first book, The Maze Runner, was adapted into a beautiful movie and was even more full to the brim with characters and descriptions than the film. (You can read my review of the movie from last week by clicking here.) The book introduced a world to the audience that was as mysterious as it was all-encompassing. Later, when the characters have fought tooth and nail and formed friendships along the way to escaping the place they’ve been put into (the maze), you have connected with each of them in various ways. The action in the novel is just as good as on the screen and if you weren’t taken by the depth of it in movie form, you will love how detailed the book is.

In The Scorch Trials you keep following the survivors from the maze as they are once again put into a shitty situation they have to scramble out of. Without going into too much detail as to what that situation is (and thus spoiling everything for you), I will say that there is a lot of turmoil amongst the survivors in this novel. Even still, you are given a well-formed storyline and continued character development. The characters you already knew get more action and new characters are introduced which you learn to begrudgingly accept (because they’re actually written well). By the end of this story you are ready to steamroll right through the third installment in order to get to the resolution.

During The Death Cure I found the storyline to kind of traipse off into some broken sort of path toward the ending. It starts out bold with a list of names from the survivors of the last two novels—but the result being the list of those which are not Immune to The Flare (and who subsequently caught it). Congratulations, your favourite character made it into the third book and now you get completely fucked over because they aren’t immune and you get to watch them go insane and die. Wonderful. No wait, that wasn’t supposed to be what I took away from the book. What you were supposed to take away was that after the hell everyone has gone through in all three of these books the left overs are supposed to establish a new world (basically) that somebody in power set up for them to go to if everything sucked back on Earth. It’s passed off as a ‘paradise’, but with the main character so haunted and tortured by this point you just wish the story had ended with just about anything else (like back when your favourite character was still alive, maybe). Seriously: while the storyline was inconsistent and seemed like Dashner had forgotten just what he’d had planned for the third installment, it did have character consistency and descriptions galore. If you’re a detail-oriented person you will still love this world that Dashner has set up for you, even though the ending is not your typical “everything’s alright now and everyone’s made it through.”

I would definitely recommend The Maze Runner series to 14+ aged readers (due to content and character death), but would warn that you may not like me very much for recommending it to you after you’ve finished the trilogy. I give the series a 4/5 stars, mostly due to the consistency and the detail of the world that Dashner formed. I took away that fifth star because of the (I feel) lack of coherent storyline in the final book.

Planet Urth: Post-Apocalyptic Flop

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Planet Urth was a free eBook with an interesting post-apocalyptic blurb that made me think I wanted to read it. And although I made my way through it in about three days of not really committing to it; I can’t say that this book was one that compelled me to go out and buy the remaining three of the series. There were a couple of good things about the novel, but overall I found it lacking and unoriginal.

One of the more annoying aspects of the novel was pacing. I was a quarter of the way through it and still wondering what direction it was trying to take. I actually stopped to remark to my boyfriend, an avid reader, that I didn’t know when it was going to pick up. Because of this, the novel was hard to get into, even though I knew that at some point the plot would begin to drive the story.

The second thing I found lacking was originality. Mostly this was due to the plot devices, once the plot got going, but in Planet Urth it felt that the biggest and most important aspect was the “love at first sight” the main character, Avery, had with a boy her own age—one of the first humans she’d seen in years apart from her younger sister. Don’t get me wrong, I love romance, but I love it more when it’s not sappy, silly and over the top. At every turn Avery was waxing poetic about Will and it left the book feeling ultimately hollow. There were other devices that brought the two “together”, but as I don’t want to spoil any potential readers, I won’t go into it.

The third thing I found woefully inadequate was the character development. Now, in a good story even the side characters and minor characters have some development. In this case I saw almost none. There were hints at some small improvements, but for the most part the characters were a certain way and that was the way they remained for the entirety of their appearance in the novel.

However, there were some aspects that the two authors, Jennifer & Christopher Martucci, were good at writing. For instance, the descriptions of everything from Avery’s walk through the forest to the flashbacks in her dreams, were all very vivid. I felt like I could picture everything so clearly that I could have been there with the characters—this is something that a lot of writers skip over or have an underwhelming amount of in their books.

While I do applaud their creativity in plot idea, I don’t feel as though it were executed very well. Lots of little things stood out to me that didn’t make sense or were out of place, not there at all, or picked out of a hat. I would give Planet Urth a 2.5 out of 5 stars and only recommend this book to those looking for an easy read and are into post-apocalyptic plots.

Uglies, Pretties, Specials & Extras: Westerfeld’s Dystopian Series

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Uglies: The Series is a four book series by Scott Westerfeld that I recently finished. As a dystopian future for the human race there were weird surgeries and technology we’ve never heard of before: hoverstruts to hold buildings up, crash bracelets to stop you from hitting the ground too fast, and becoming “Pretty” or “Special”. Of course this is only a few examples of the differences between life as we know it and this series, but there are enough similarities to today’s culture that you’re not left in the dark as to what’s going on.

Let’s make it simple: there are “Uglies”, “Pretties” and “Specials” that are involved in the first three books. You start off following Tally Youngblood, an Ugly (someone who is young enough to have not had the surgery to become “Pretty”) on the verge of becoming Pretty. During the first book, Uglies, Tally is looking forward to one thing—being Pretty. When her only friend runs away from the city, she’s threatened with the possibility of not becoming Pretty if she doesn’t help the Specials from Special Circumstances find her friend. Needless to say, she’s a very confused fifteen, almost sixteen year old girl who doesn’t know what to do or what she wants. By the end of Uglies she is a very different girl than what she started out being. In Pretties, the second book of the series, it follows Tally as she tries to make it back to what she was in the first book. She’s been forced into a position where she doesn’t want to be and the entire book is her struggle to get back to being herself—at sixteen years old. In Specials she has been caught going against the government, and so there were serious repercussions which included a form of brain washing in the form of surgery on her brain. Her entire body has been made into a weapon for Special Circumstances by this point and she’s got a love/hate relationship going with it. The third book follows her trying to help her boyfriend to be like her, to be a Special. This book was a bit more a struggle to get through, as Tally’s whole mindset has changed so it isn’t the same character you felt you had grown attached to in the previous two books. It was the last of the four books, Extras, that Westerfeld pulled out of left field. For one it follow Aya Fuse, who was from an entirely different city. So Tally didn’t end up showing up until halfway through the novel. This meant it was difficult to get into, but with the same surroundings and terms that were used in the first three novels, you were still able to find your feet. Overall there were many different struggles within this series: the struggle to find yourself and who you are; the struggle to be original and an individual; and morality—of rights and wrongs. There were many more, of course, but these three touched me the most.

The struggle to find yourself and find out who you are, what you stand for is one that every single person goes through. It’s usually in their pre-teens or teenage years, when they try on different styles and experiment with every aspect of their being to see what suits them best. This is shown with Tally especially, but you see it with Aya Fuse in the fourth book as well. While Tally is on a pursuit to just be herself (no matter what that means), Aya knows exactly what she wants and just needs to find a way to get there.

The struggle to be original and an individual is seen through Tally’s constant rebuffing of what other people say she is. They say she’s selfish and she wants to be as selfless as possible. They say she’s a perfect fit for Special Circumstances and she doesn’t feel like she fits in. With Aya Fuse you watch her look up to her older brother, but still find things about him that she doesn’t want to duplicate. She’s firm in wanting to be her own person and make her own decisions, she wants to make it by herself. This isn’t just a struggle in the book, it’s also very apparent, especially in today’s culture, where everyone is trying to make it big for doing something and that something needs to be unique in some way.

Morality, or rights and wrongs, are difficult to develop regardless of what kind of culture you come from. Everyone has different views and they all think that their way is the only way, so it’s hard for teens to figure it out without finding their limits the hard way. That’s exactly what is happening in all four of the books in the Uglies series. The worst part is that for Tally, her actual brain is being changed to believe different things, so not only does she have to sort it out the hard way, but she has to fight against her own brain in order to do so. Aya’s is more straightforward, with some people believing one option is the correct one and others believing that the other is best. So Aya needs to figure out what she believes and make her own decisions.

I would give Uglies: the series by Scott Westerfeld a 4.5/5 stars. Not only would I recommend this action/adventure series to pre-teens and teens, but it’s a good lighter read with an exciting plot for adults as well. Granted, if you’re not into political commentary as well as dystopian futures you probably won’t find this read to be entertaining in the least. I really believe that the depth of character and the depth of the world that Westerfeld has created in these novels is enough to make anyone think a little bit about what they’re reading and if such a world is possible.