C.A. Gray

Perfect Dystopia

The Phoenix Project by C.A. Gray, the third in the Liberty Box series, was one of the most satisfying endings to an excellent series. Well written – well paced, surprising but not disappointing, well plotted, and with all the right folks surviving at then end… it was perfect.  Too often in this genre the last book, especially the ending to the last book… well… stinks.  But that is not the case here.  The Phoenix Project (The Liberty Box, #3)It was a perfect ending to a wonderful book and series!

There were all the right twists and turns, the right balance of characters and action. There was the right balance of romance and plot too – the characters cared for each other, but it wasn’t so totally sappy that the romance overshadowed everything (and turned the main characters into a bunch of whining selfish obnoxious teenagers – and I think finding that balance is phenomenally hard and hats of to the author for pulling it off throughout this series).  It was not needlessly dragged out just to get the page count up – or worse, to stretch a fourth (or more) book into what was a well planned trilogy. It was great reading on the elliptical machine on the gym – I couldn’t put it down and that meant extra workout time.

I have struggled a little with the YA-dystopian sub-genre lately. They seem to be well written in the beginning, or at least interesting enough to hold my attention, and then ‘wham’ something happens that makes me regret having read the entire series. That was not the case here. I was so happy with the way the story ended, the fate of each of the characters felt right, and it didn’t feel contorted or as if the author didn’t know how to end things so the characters ended up being ridiculous (**cough, cough** Divergent **cough, cough**).

The other thing that this series, and especially this book, illustrated is the power of suggestion, the power of brain washing, the power of only hearing one side of a story, the power of the mind. It is so very hard to re-train the brain, even when what was learned in the first place was not real. It takes great strength of will and character to be open to other perspectives, even when the other perspective is the reality. This book never looses sight of the broader plot, never stretches things so that the next steps taken by each character doesn’t feel logical (even if at times it was frustrating to watch the characters make the choices they were making), and most of all, met the expectations set by the first 2 wonderful installments of this series. It was awesome and wonderful, and I would read it again.

In my book this author is on a roll – 2 wonderfully delightful series – with not a single let down in 6 books! And, it is not often that is the case. Thanks for the read C.A. Gray! Keep up the excellent work!

p.s. I received a free copy in advance in exchange for an honest review.

p.p.s.  I think the cover for this particular installment of the trilogy is breathtaking and the best cover, for either this or the Piercing the Veil (although the latest for those books are nice too) series, yet!


New Standard in Dystopia

Wow.  What started off a little slow turned into a race to the end.  I couldn’t read it fast enough.  The Liberty Box by C.A. Gray sucked me in, and I couldn’t escape.  What a great story.  And pretty scary too as in it feels rooted in just enough reality that I felt tempted to pinch myself to make sure that I am really living the life I think I am 27108728living.

The Liberty Box is an expertly crafted, wonderfully written, and a very refreshing take the dystopian genre.  All the dystopian stories I have read to date take on the notion of factions, divisions, sectors, camps, [insert any SAT word synonym of your choice here]….  They have all started to meld together and I couldn’t tell you which story, be it the Divergent Series or Hunger Games, ended which way (without looking it up anyway, or watching the movie).  And those that haven’t ventured into the land of the factions typically involve some sort of disease (Masque of the Red Death or Legend), “game”/”test” (Maze Runner), or other singular event.  Here, Liberty Box isn’t wholly different in that there is a single event that caused the US as we know it to change.  But, the economic collapse and the idea that it is just here in the US (versus the entire world, or ignoring the fact that the rest of the world, at least at some point existed too) are both unique.  And how society is saved is quite frankly, frightening.  In part because it totally felt like something that could absolutely happen and we could all be turned into (in the words of the Crone) mindless “sheep” (although that too bears some similarity to the drug induced society of the Giver).

The plot of the story starts out like this: Kate, a young and beautiful reporter who beams into the nation’s households every night on the newscast suddenly discovers that an enemy of the state, who has been executed, is someone she knew when she was younger.  And when she starts to look into why, her fiance is killed.  Now on the run, Kate finds herself “off the grid” and away from the control of society.  Jackson, born in the US but raised in Iceland where he learned to control his mind and body from his grandfather, is back in the US for his mother’s funeral.  But, not all is as it seems in the Republic of the United States.  Yes, the former democratic US is now a republic.  Kate and Jackson find themselves in a forest with others and what they do about the world they are now faced with is the question.

To me, this seems to have the potential to be the next in the Divergent, Hunger Games movie spree.  I can totally picture the great scenery, characters, chases, and action up on the big screen.  I know I would pay to see this story brought to life.  While decidedly YA, it’s also scarier than HG or Divergent – as it seems so much more plausible and it isn’t hard to imagine someone with the financial means to create a supercomputer that can separate and segregate society the way the Potentate has done here.  It reminded me a little of  a number of movies that seemed to have just enough basis in reality to be much more frightening than the blood and gore horror movie.  They way Eagle Eye was much scarier (to me anyway) than World War Z or Saw.

Well written and well paced, there were fewer plot holes then I have found with most of the other dystopian stories I have read.  And the end was quite a surprise.  One that I can say I certainly didn’t expect or see coming.  My only critique is that the characters, Kate especially, at times felt a little two-dimensional.  It shouldn’t be that Bruce the Shark (from Finding Nemo for those who aren’t huge Disney fans like me) has more depth than some of the main protagonist.  There may be a reason for this in Kate’s case, maybe Kate is supposed to be that way because of the way she is raised.  But some of the others, especially Jackson, didn’t feel like they have quite enough personality. Regardless, I think the development for some characters needs a little work. I would love to see the great promise that some of the characters have be fulfilled.  However, this was not enough to shape the overall thoughts about the book; I believe Ms. Gray has provided yet another wonderful story and I am eager to see what happens to the characters next.

The Magic of Physics

Had my college physics professor used this book to explain things, or at least reduced some of the tougher concepts down to the 18776630distilled version we get in Intangible, by C.A. Gray, I totally might have done better in class.  At least it would have held my attention longer and I wouldn’t have wanted to throw myself off the roof tops of the science building before every physics exam.  Using physics to explain magic was a brilliant way to keep the fantastical story some-what grounded in realty.  It was also a great way to allow a character to explain certain elements or foundation blocks of the world being created, without it feeling forced.

I thought there were so many wonderful aspects of this story.  The writing was good and the characters were believable.  What was I excited about?  Lots. While there are lots of things that reminded me a lot of Harry Potter, that was ok.  Let’s face it, while teleportation (or Apparition as JKR calls it) isn’t exactly a concept unique to Harry Potter, the **crack** associated with that action is something that reminds me specifically of Harry Potter.  Here’s what you get to read about (and what made me think of Harry Potter): magical creatures (the one nimbi reminded me so much of Peeves); battles with real swords and with magical force fields alike (a dime-a-dozen in this genre); a prophecy (Order of the Phoenix and Prof. Trelawney); a secret city – castle and all – in the middle of England that people can’t find or if they stumble on it, it looks old and run-down (Hogwarts or the Quidditch WC Field); books which show the reader things (Tom Riddle’s diary showing Harry the (planted) Aragog scene); magical coins that get warm under certain conditions (Dumbledore’s Army’s fake galleons); the Ancient Tongue (sounded a lot like various spells and charms – I was waiting for wingardium levosia); tapping the wall to enter the secret library (getting from the Leaky Cauldron to Diagon Alley); the Sorcerer’s Stone (do I really even need to do the comparison?) and the old grey haired wise man of Isdemus (Dumbledore, anyone?).  And there were ideas that weren’t necessarily reminiscent of Harry Potter, but were certainly not new to the genre (multiple people the prophecy could be about, even at the book’s end; use of other dimensions; the trio of kids (Peter, Lily and Cole) who almost always seem to be 2 boys and 1 girl; parent’s hiding stuff from the children; a long-lost twin; etc.). That said, there were also some unique ideas.  I point again to the intertwining of physics and actual science with the story.  And, it at least felt like the author did some excellent research in preparing to write this.

For the most part, the book was well paced and there was plenty of action and magic.  The plot is off to a good start and there’s lots of room for character development and a good base of it too.  I am hard pressed to find much to criticize.  While the earlier comparison to Harry Potter may seem like criticism, it isn’t.  While there were similarities, there were also plenty of differences and nuisances that made it clear that even if JK Rowling’s wonderful works were inspiration, there is definitely a different story at work here.  All the King Arthur mythology driving the story is a nice difference.  And there was so much of it, given to us through the wonderful device of the Riddle’s Diary like book – we learn about Lancelot, Arthur, Cecily, Morgana, Camelot, Excalibur… and it is all now there ripe for the what ever plot points the next books need.  This installment is clearly a set up for what I see goodreads has as two more books.  And it was a well crafted start.  The world building was just enough to set the tone and create a well developed picture but there is still room for so much more.  There was only one thing that felt a tiny bit off, and that was around a decision of Peter’s – because I didn’t feel we (or Lily) had quite enough history with him to justify or expect certain self-destructive behavior.  But that was easily forgotten and forgiven with the action that followed.  I also think the action, the magical battle, was well paced and written and I can’t remember reading a battle that took so much care to explain it all and have everything line up, in quite some time.  Well done!

Overall, I can’t wait to read the next installment.