Book Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Title: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Sci-fi, YA, Dystopian
Year Published: 2020

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins is a dystopian sci-fi about a young Coriolanus Snow before he became President Snow. The story takes place many years earlier, before The Hunger Games trilogy, when Coriolanus was seventeen and climbing his way up in the Capitol in Panem.

We follow Coriolanus through the 10th Hunger Games in which he is a mentor to a tribute named Lucy Gray Baird from District 12. It’s tough in the arena and Coriolanus does whatever he can to help Lucy Gray win. Outside of the Games, Coriolanus begins to fall for Lucy Gray and starts showing his attraction for her. She notices and reciprocates.

After the Games, it was revealed to a higher up that Coriolanus assisted Lucy Gray in unethical ways so that she would win. He was forced to become a Peacekeeper but was allowed to choose which district to work in. He chose District 12 to be closer to Lucy Gray.

In District 12, Coriolanus learns that Lucy Gray, along with a few others, including Lucy Gray’s ex-boyfriend, were planning an escape. One of the other members in the plan was Sejanus Plinth. Sejanus was originally from District 2 but moved to the Capitol as a young kid and became good friends with Coriolanus. Sejanus was also a Peacekeeper in District 12. After having seen how poorly the District people were being treated, he vowed to help the small group escape. A crime occurs during the planning in which Coriolanus took part in, thus causing the escape to terminate.

Lucy Gray still wants to run away so Coriolanus agrees to go with her. He was also afraid the crime would catch up to him and didn’t want to be hanged. On the day he was to sneak out to run away with Lucy Gray, he gets a promotion and is required to head to District 2 the next morning. He has to choose between his future and the girl he loves. He chose love, but while they were out of District 12 in an area where the Peacekeepers were not monitoring, he finds the weapon he used during the murder and attempts to discard it. He also learns that Lucy Gray had betrayed him and goes after her to kill her, but he couldn’t find her. He returns to District 12 and leaves for training the next day.

During the flight to District 2, they made a stop at the Capitol. It turns out that the Head Gamemaker, Dr. Gaul, wanted to train Coriolanus at the university because Dr. Gaul found Coriolanus brilliant with his Games ideas.

In The Hunger Games trilogy, Coriolanus is the antagonist and someone we detest because of his cold-heartedness and brutal ruling. In The Ballad, he is the protagonist and someone we are supposed to like and feel sorry for. He does come across as a decent person in Ballad. His love for Lucy Gray was real. He went out of his way to help her win, even doing things he shouldn’t be doing. It felt as though he wanted her alive because she meant so much to him. Even if he never saw her again, at least she’d be able to live her life in the District. However, because he was found out, he got the opportunity to be with her and to really know her. She was all that she said she was: a singer and song writer; a free spirit. She was also very clever. In the Games, her cleverness helped her survive and it also, at one point, helped save his life.

The story goes much deeper than a dystopian story about a young adult falling in love and learning about who he is. I read the QA, which included the idea behind the story, and was completely surprised. I did get the sense of a struggle between an authoritarian world and a romanticism or “freedom” ideal. It wasn’t about which character I liked better or who I should like more than the other. It was more about understanding people’s behavior based not only on their upbringing but also the environment they’re exposed to. It was a very powerful book with so many hidden messages and meanings.

I wasn’t expecting to say this, but I’m totally shocked by how great this book was.

Book Review: The Pale Dreamer

Title: The Pale Dreamer
Author: Samantha Shannon
Genre: Sci-fi, paranormal, new adult
Year Published: 2016

The Pale Dreamer by Samantha Shannon is a prequel novella to The Bone Season series. It gives us a taste of Paige Mahoney’s first job with mime-lord, Jaxon Hall. The story takes place when Paige is sixteen, three years before The Bone Season.

In this story, Paige is given the opportunity to use her ability as a dreamwalker to prove to the mime-lord and her cohorts that she is worthy of working with them. The job was to track down a poltergeist as a team. It turns out, Paige did a lot more than what she thought she could do and what the others thought she was capable of. This gets Jaxon’s attention and he makes her an offer she can’t refuse.

I read The Bone Season series up to book three (The Song Rising). Book four is not out yet but should be later this year. The Pale Dreamer was a free download from the publisher on Instagram. I had plans to read this novella but kept forgetting and new books kept being added to my TBR list pushing this one even further back. I’m glad that I came across the ad. It was worth it to know how Paige joined Jaxon’s team of clairvoyants and how she became his most important member.

The Infinite Sea Book Review

Title: The Infinite Sea (2nd book in The 5th Wave Trilogy)
Author: Rick Yancey
Genre: Sci-fi, apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic, dystopian, paranormal, YA

theinfinitesea[Side note] Today is the opening of the movie, The 5th Wave, and I wish I could go see it today but I’ve got a busy schedule.  I hope to get my chance sometime next week.

This is the second book to The 5th Wave trilogy.  This book delves deeper into Ringer.  She was not a main character in the first book and we only got to see a little piece of her at the military camp.  She came across as someone who added depth to another character. She was portrayed as mysterious, tough, and excellent with weapons, but otherwise there wasn’t much to her.  In The Infinite Sea, we get to see her weakness.  We get to be inside her brain and understand who she really is.

The story begins with the cast: Cassie, Ben Parish and his buddies from the camp including Ringer.  Ringer leaves their hideout and gets captured and returned to the camp where she is inserted with a head device and gets alien data downloaded into her brain.  Part of the download included some superpowers which allowed her to see in the dark and heal quickly from injuries.  In essence she becomes a carrier of alien knowledge, alien control, and super strength.  This “upgrade” to Ringer was Commander Vosch’s plan to use her to track down Evan Walker.  Evan is the guy Vosch wants.  This becomes an alien vs. alien thing.

There is a lot of action and suspense throughout the book.

I enjoyed this book just as much as the first book but there were a few things that I felt could have been explained better/deeper such as:

  1. Ringer’s character.  Even though we got to read from her first person, I didn’t feel that I could relate or even understand her.  There was back story to her past but it just didn’t feel very strong.  It didn’t feel believable.
  2. The upgrade to Ringer could have been explained better. I guess I wanted to know more about how she felt.  She had fevers and physical pain but it lacked emotional pain.  She had this “so what” attitude as if she accepted whatever was happening to her.  I felt that she could have fought it more.  Cried more.  Screamed more.  I thought she should have shone more anger toward these aliens and what they were doing and what they’ve done to humans.
  3. The soldier that aided and assisted Ringer was intriguing but there were things about him that I didn’t understand like when he stared blankly at Ringer when they had escaped. How was he controlled in that way?  Why weren’t some of the other humans controlled the same way?  When he came out of his control, he and Ringer just continued with their conversations as if it was normal.  He continued to take care of her as per directives and she just went along with it.  That was hard to believe.

Overall, this was a great read.  The humor was still great.  The weapons descriptions and actions/fight scenes were superb.  There was a bit of Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road, writing style in the book.  I’ve grown to like the no quotations conversations and was excited to see it in this book.  I cannot wait for the 3rd book!

Throne of Glass Book Review

Title: Throne of Glass
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Genre: Fantasy, YA

This story is about an assassin who was captured and made into a slave whom was rescued by the prince and his captain of the guard.  They took her to win the champion fighting for the prince’s father.  Turns out the prince and the captain of the guard both fall in love with her.  She falls for the prince first but then eventually falls for the captain.

This book wasn’t so bad.  It was enjoyable.  The writing was good.  Easy to read and paced well.  Character development was okay.  There was a bit of childhood back story to the protagonist, Celanea, which was helpful.  The storyline was a bit silly, cliche, and unbelievable though.  Celaena couldn’t see that the captain liked her but it was very obvious.  Same with the prince.  Every night he came to her room to listen to her read and she never put two and two together.  It got annoying.  But then again, I totally get it because the author said she wrote the story when she was in high school and college so I can see how she chose not to reveal Celaena’s feelings for the boys.  I think that’s how most teenagers and young adult deal with how they feel for someone, they pretend they don’t know.  The ending was good.  I enjoyed the fight scenes and how much the captain tried to keep Celaena going.  You can totally see that he cares deeply for her.  I wasn’t a big fan of Celaena but what I did like about her was that she wasn’t perfect.  She’s not good with poisons and that’s the one thing that could have led to her demise.

I won’t be reading the trilogy or series.  Although I enjoyed this book there were things that didn’t make any sense that made me almost give up on it.  For instance, Celaena’s an assassin but she did not come across like an assassin at all.  There was no where in the story that talked about what her duties were as an assassin.  No back story to her training and how she trained and what led her to being captured.  There was no oath or creed to hold her accountable. Her characteristics did not have any assassin-ness to it.  She was portrayed more like a princess in despair.  Weak.  Clueless.  Locked up until the competition.  She practiced her fighting with the captain but I would assume an assassin already knows how to sword fight and fight with other weapons as well.  I would also assume an assassin is much better at fighting then a captain of the guard.  So, I was disappointed by this.  If you enjoy a YA fantasy about an “assassin,” in a fairytale like story then this book is for you.

The 5th Wave Book Review

Title: The 5th Wave
Author: Rick Yancey
Genre: Sci-fi, apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic, dystopian, paranormal, YA

the5thwaveimageI came upon this book because I saw the preview to the movie when I went to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens (great movie, btw, and watched it twice!) and did a search for the book to see if there was actually a book I could read first before I go see the movie later this month. I always like to read the book first before watching the movie because I like knowing the story from the original creator of the story. I learned that there was a book, published in 2013, so I bought it and finished it within three days.  I know, I’m a little late.

The story takes place in modern day and is about an alien invasion (think aliens similar to Ender’s Game Xenocide). The story begins with protagonists, Cassie Sullivan. She’s a high school student who is pretty much like your typical modern day high school teenager. She reminds me a lot of my 13-year-old in the way she thinks and dreams about boys, how she notices a certain cute boy who doesn’t notice her. I guess I can relate to that too because I clearly remember a boy I liked when I was in high school who didn’t know I existed. But, I liked the book not because I could relate to it in that way but because there was action and decisions and crazy things happening and good writing. I liked the world building and the character development although, I must say, I found some of the characters a bit weak in their character. For instance when the author switched from Cassie’s POV to Ben’s POV, I couldn’t clearly distinguish who it was at first because they sounded similar. Cassie tells us most, if not all, the back-story about the first wave through the fourth wave and brings us to the 5th wave so we’re not left wondering how they ended up in the 5th wave.

I enjoyed the author’s voice or writing style. It’s to the point and he often takes us ahead of the game so we are aware of what’s to come but the characters are not. I happen to really like this type of writing. I get irritated when the author withholds too much and I only know as much as the characters do or less.  The writing kind of reminds me of The Stand by Stephen King. Especially during the back story when the “plague” hit.

This book is categorized as a young adult (YA) but the language and sexual references didn’t give me the feel that this was a YA. The author may have tried to stay on the safer side but personally, if I have to think twice about letting my 13-year-old read it, then it’s not YA. Of course it’s nothing like the rated R contents in The Game of Thrones Series, but it’s not quite PG-13 like Hunger Games, Divergent, or Maze Runner either.

Overall, this was a great read. It was perfectly paced. New characters were thrown in later on so the reader could get a feel for the main protagonist. There was great tension buildup and great action scenes. The dialogue, sarcasm, and humor were awesome.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good post-apocalyptic sci-fi with military action and a touch of extraterrestrial.

I don’t know why but these two songs come to mind when I think of this book:

“Night Call” by Dead V

“Angel Warrior” by Dwayne Ford