Friday, June 7, 2013

What 2 Read Wednesday:
"Human experience is far too varied."
Book Review: The Madness Underneath
by Maureen Johnson &
The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd

“There is no normal. I've never met a normal person. The concept is flawed. 
It implies that there is only one way people are supposed to be, 
and that can't possible be true. 
Human experience is far too varied.” 
― Maureen JohnsonThe Madness Underneath

I know that I have missed What 2 Read Wednesday for the past two months, but I hope this post makes up for it.  Over the course of my blogging hiatus due to travels, I was able to read a large number of books, including two whole series, as well as a few that are part of other series.  Instead of only mentioning one for What 2 Read Wednesday, I wanted to give my brief review of all of them.  All of them are "young adult" fiction novels, but they do range from excellent examples of the genre (and fiction in general) to mindless frivolity that only serves to waste time on a ten hour flight.

This first review is going to be awkward because it is the second book in a series and the first book really needs to be read for the second to make sense, and I don't want to spoil too much of either.  

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson is the second in Johnson's "Shades of London" series, about Rory Devereaux.  She is a teenage girl who stumbles upon (in the first novel, The Name of the Star) a Jack-the-Ripper copycat killer during her first year at a London boarding school, which results in her near death.  This may all seem relatively cut-and-dry, but what makes Johnson's plot unique is the inclusion of the "Shades," a small group of ghost hunters that have an integral part to the story.  

In The Madness Underneath, due to Rory's experiences in the first novel, she has no one to turn to but the Shades as she attempts to deal with the aftermath of her prior experiences.  She is horribly confused, and feels the Shades are the only ones who will understand.  At one point she tells herself:
"You can't curl up on the sofa and deny life forever. Life is always going to be a series of ouch-making moments, and the question was, was i going to go all fetal position, or was I going to woman up?"
As Rory grows closer to the members of the Shades, she feels less and less comfortable at the boarding school.  She thinks
"I felt like I was faking all of this, like I was playing the part of a student. I had the costume and the props, but I didn't really belong here. I'd pinned notes on the stupid corkboard backing of my desk, and I'd highlighted things...But it was all so meaningless."
Then, a new string of deaths begins in London, and Rory and the Shades need to figure out what is going on and why.  As the plot begins to spiral out of control, Johnson ends the novel on such a cliff hanger that I would have had a moment à la Pat in Silver Linings Playbook had I not been on an airplane.  I immediately looked up to see that the third novel won't be out until 2014, and have resigned myself to wait.  

The Madness Underneath is a powerful novel that draws the reader in unexpectedly and easily, which makes the ending that much more difficult to bear.  I am very excited to read books three and four in the series.  Maureen Johnson is a master at her craft, and I would recommend this book highly to anyone over the age of thirteen or so.

Megan Shepherd's work The Madman's Daughter is a novel of epic proportions, as it is a retelling of H.G. Well's The Island of Dr. Moreau, only this version of events is told from the point of view of an invented daughter.  

Juliet is a sixteen-year-old girl who is struggling to make a life for herself in Victorian London after heinous accusations that lead to the discrediting of her father's work and his untimely death, and then the subsequent death of her mother.  Working as a maid at the University where her father was once a prominent physician, Juliet faces sure scandal when she fights off an attacker, but luckily stumbles upon her father's assistant, an old family friend named Montgomery.   

Juliet finds out that her father is still alive and insists on accompanying Montgomery to the remote island where Dr. Moreau is living and working.  Arriving at the island (with a castaway named Edward in tow), Juliet embarks on an attempt to understand whether her father was justly accused or not, and learns that things are not exactly as they seem to be.  At one point Juliet hears, beautifully, 
"the rising and falling cadence of words, carried on the wind, spoken in a language other than human.”  
As her father tries to control his creations, a monster is wreaking havoc and killing them off one by one, and it is up to Juliet to figure out how to stop it.

I am personally not a huge fan of H.G. Wells, though of all his works, I really like The Island of Dr. Moreau.  However, I think what Shepherd has created with The Madman's Daughter rivals Wells' work in every way.  Her writing is phenomenal, and as scientific and gruesome as Wells' own, and the excitement and emotional attachment that Wells pulls from his readers Shepherd manages to exceed.  This is to be the first in a series of novels about Juliet, her father and his creations, and I would also highly recommend it to older teens and adults.

This next review will be brief, as I am not going to highly recommend any of the books in this series, but I thought I should at least mention them because they are fairly popular.  The "Beautiful Creatures" series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl consists of four novels and one novella, Beautiful Creatures, Beautiful Darkness, Dream Dark, Beautiful Chaos, and Beautiful Redemption.  

The first novel, Beautiful Creatures was entertaining enough for me to read the second novel, but it would fit into the category of mindless frivolity to make the ten hour flight pass.  The story follows Ethan and Lena as they try to figure out just what they are to each other and what has brought them together.  Lena is a "caster," and Ethan seems to be human, but some force seems to be drawing them to each other.  This series is a star-crossed teen romance that, in my opinion, is trying too hard to be the next Twilight (which I thought was mediocre, by the way) and there are too many characters crammed in with very little development.  By the third book Ethan becomes whiny and the ancillary relationship between Lena's cousin (also a "caster") and Ethan's friend Link (who, at this point, has become a warewolf mixed-breed) is much more interesting.  There is also too much typical high school drama thrown into the mix, in what can only be an attempt by the authors to make the reader relate to the story.  

I would not recommend this series except to the biggest Twilight fans, but be prepared to wade through the muck of details the authors try to cram in throughout the plot.

I am running out of steam for writing reviews, and I still have two more series to go, so I will be quick.  Can you believe I read all these books in the past two months?

Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, and Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare are the books in the "Infernal Devices" series about a race of people called "Shadowhunters" who fight demons in order to keep humans safe.  This particular series is set in the Victorian Era and centers on three young people, Tessa, Will and Jem.  It chronicles their battle with Mortmain, an evil man who has created the Infernal Devices in an attempt to wipe-out the Shadowhunter race.  There is also a love triangle that threatens throughout between Tessa and the two boys, which further complicates matters.

Cassandra Clare has also written a modern series about the Shadowhunters called "The Mortal Instruments," which includes City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, City of Fallen Angels, and City of Lost Souls.  There is also a sixth book that will be released in April 2014.  This series centers around Shadowhunters that are descended from those in the "Infernal Devices" series, but have their own set of problems (and relationships) to deal with.

Overall, I really like Cassandra Clare's writing.  She includes just enough detail about the history of her fictional races of people to make it interesting without bogging the plot down.  I also like how at the beginning of each chapter she has chosen an epigram from classic poetry or literature that relates to the story she has crafted.  For example, in Clockwork Princess, she took a stanza from Algernon Charles Swinburne's poem "Laus Veneris"
"Yea, though God search it warily enough,
There is not one sound thing in all thereof;
Though he search all my veins through, searching them
He shall find nothing whole therein but love."
The choice of this stanza is the perfect setup for the chapter that follows, without being cheesy or kitschy.  

At this point, having read the entire "Infernal Devices" series, but only most of "The Mortal Instruments," I prefer the former.  I felt that the characters were more developed and I personally have a fondness for historical fiction.  However, I reserve the right to change my preference after I read the final novel in "The Mortal Instruments" series.  I would recommend both of these series to older teens and adults.  Shadowhunting is a messy business, so there are some gory scenes, and some of the intricacies of the relationships might be more than a younger teen can fully comprehend.

Here are direct links to some of the books I recommended today.  Check them out and then share your thoughts below with a comment.


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