Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

I did a quick tally on my Kindle and it appears that I have read almost a dozen dystopian YA novels in the past year (not counting sequels/subsequent books in series), including blockbusters like Divergent, Enclave, Wither, Matched, and The Selection. So clearly I deserve a cookie for making it through so much dystopian doom without offing myself, no!?

Cookie aside, the point is, The Darkest Minds is without question the best dystopian book I've read this year.*

This book is scary. Bracken creates a world that is so vivid and horrifying and gritty that you really lose yourself in it; it takes over your whole mood as you're reading and stays with you after you finish. I finished it late last night, fell asleep, and when I woke up this morning it took me a few minutes to remember why I had that pit of despair in my gut. Yep, because of a book. Well done, Alexandra Bracken, that is not an easy feat to pull off!

The premise of this book is really original. All of a sudden kids between the ages of 10-18 start dropping dead of a mysterious illness. About 2% or so survive, but they are . . . different. As their peers are keeling over, the survivors realize that they've suddenly developed a variety of special powers, powers the government categorizes by color. Reds can light things on fire with their mind; Blues can move objects with a thought; Yellows can manipulate electricity, and Oranges, the most feared of all, can control people's minds. Naturally, the adult-run government is not thrilled to have thousands of super-human children running around, so they round up all the kids into what are basically concentration camps to try to stomp out their "abnormalities." The book centers on a girl named Ruby, who is classified as a Green (one of the more innocuous colors), but is harboring a secret, which, if found out, would almost certainly mean her death sentence . . .

Having just recently finished Lexicon by Max Green, which is based on the idea that certain people ("poets") skilled at the art of persuasion can take total control over another person simply by uttering a few words, I've been musing about mind control a lot lately. It is a horrifying concept, obviously, and one that presents a lot of disturbing yet fascinating ethical dilemmas. Is it ever ok to slip into someone's mind, control their thoughts, make them do something? What if it's for their own good? And are you automatically a monster if you have that ability, or is there hope of redemption? These are some of the big questions that come up in The Darkest Minds, and Bracken does a superb job of showing how the characters grapple with them and struggle to retain their humanity in a world where they are being ruthlessly hunted.

One thing I really like in dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels is when the author gives us a glimpse into what life was like before all hell broke loose. It gives us some context that we can relate to, so that when we see these characters stumbling through a strange new heinous world, there is a point of reference. For example, I loved that Poison Princess begins a few days before the apocalyptic "Flash" and we get to know Evie as a popular cheerleader just going about her life in high school. Seeing her that way added depth to her character and made her whole saga more relatable. And it is the same way in this book. The Darkest Minds picks up right as the "apocalypse" is about to happen, so that we get a peek at what life was like for Ruby (and all the other characters as well) Before. It just makes it easier to empathize; makes the characters seem more real.

The only thing that fell short for me in this book was the romance aspect. It's not that I didn't like Liam (Ruby's love interest, an absolute stand-up guy)--I just felt like his character was never as sharp/complex as many of the other characters, such as Zu, Sam, and Chubs. I didn't really understand why Liam and Ruby had the hots for each other, aside from the fact that for most of the book they are the only same-aged individual of the opposite sex that the other knows (which, actually, is probably enough when you are 16, lolz). Luckily, the romance part was not the focal point of the book, and you get the feeling that plot line will be developed more in the sequel.

All in all though, this was definitely one of the best books I've read all year. Utterly original, action-packed, with complex world-building, the whole 9 yards! 4.5 stars.

*Just to be clear I am not counting The Arcana Chronicles here, because I do not really consider those books to be dystopian, even though there is definitely a post-apocalyptic, dystopian vibe to them. Both Poison Princess and Endless Night still remain my favorite reads of 2013. Just wanted to clarify!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Scariest Book Covers

I read most stuff on my Kindle these days so I don't always pay attention to jackets. Also, I don't read too many scary books because I get nightmares! But here are a few jackets that stuck out and still haunt me:

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

"They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness. The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don't."

So muses Lena, the main character and narrator of Delirium, giving us a peek into the rationale behind the dystopian society she lives in where teenagers get an operation around their 17th birthday or so, removing the part of the brain that "loves." Because the reason behind all the world wars and catastrophes in the days of yore was surely...too many slighted lovers!

Maybe I've just read way too many dystopian novels lately (along with anyone else on the planet who reads a lot of YA books), but when I heard that the premise for Delirium was a world where "love" had been banned, I rolled my eyes and sighed painfully. It just sounded so lame and unbelievable (that a society would actually decide banning love was the answer to world peace).

However, I really enjoyed Lauren Oliver's previous book, Before I Fall, so I decided to give this one a try. And it actually exceeded my expectations!

Though I never really got on board with the whole "love ruined the world so we cut the love nerves out of everyone's brains!" idea, it didn't ruin the book for me. When the book begins, Lena is just a few months away from having the operation that will render her incapable of love, and she's actually looking forward to it, viewing it as a rite of passage and a much wanted escape from all the raging teenage hormones she is currently suffering. Then, as one does in these books, she meets Someone, and begins to question things.

So it's not a terribly original story line, but Oliver is a great writer and she makes it compelling. I was really surprised to find myself staying up late tearing through the book because I had to find out what Lena would decide to do: to rebel or not! Lena is a likable character and she experiences growth as the novel progresses--at a realistic pace. She doesn't just see her loverboy the first time and immediately declare "damn the surgery, I'm in LOVE and I LOVE IT!" -- it takes awhile and that is a blessing. And there are obviously lots of obstacles in the way, this being a dystopian novel with an all-knowing all-seeing iron-fisted government.

The book ends on a massive cliffhanger, unsurprisingly. Because I am an awful person with no self restraint, I immediately got online after I finished it and read some spoilers about the second book, rather than reading the second book myself. And, woof! I did not love what I saw there. Which is terrible...I should grow up and actually read it and give it a chance, yadda yadda. Maybe one of these days.

In any case, not the most original or believable story lines for a dystopian novel, but still a good read that sucked me in and kept me up way past my bed time. 3.5 stars.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Feature & Follow Friday

This week's acivity: 

photograph your favorite read in a funny place

and a spoooooky feline bonus photo:

Thanks to Parajunkee & Alison Can Read for hosting Feature & Follow Friday!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

When is it okay for an author to kill off a beloved main character?

WARNING: I'm gonna talk explicitly about some deaths in some books here. No books published in the last year or two, other than the Bridget Jones catastrophe. But there is always the possibility you haven't read one of these books yet and might be disappointed if you read on. So don't say I didn't warn you!

So, there have been a few controversial slayings in literature lately, which has got me thinking about this question of When Is It Acceptable For An Author To Slay A Beloved Character?

Obviously it's always "acceptable" in the sense that the author can do whatever she damn well pleases with her own work. I'm not debating that question because it is a fundamental truth. But, just because an author has the authority to do it, does not in my view always mean it's a good choice or that it makes for good literature. For example, if the death appears to be purely for shock value, or if it seems like it could have been easily avoidable and is thus contrived so that the reader feels manipulated, then I would argue that it was a poor choice.

One of the deaths that got me thinking about this is one that happened recently and is a big thing. I won't even utter the book's title here for fear of spoiling it for people, but I'm sure some of you know what I'm talking about. I had it spoiled for me on Amazon, but I'm actually grateful for that. It made me glad I didn't read that book because I'm pretty sure I would not have been ok with that death and would have been annoyed that I wasted my time on such a book. Since I didn't read the book, I'm not going to debate it at length on here, but I'll just say from the reviews I read this one sounded like it was done for shock value more than anything else, which just seems like a cop out to me.

The other recent killing is of course the case of Mark Darcy of Bridget Jones. That one has been all over the news lately. It appears that Helen Fielding casually announces Darcy's death in the opening pages of the new Bridget Jones novel, Mad About the Boy. Now, I like Bridget Jones a lot. I am a huge fan actually and have watched the first movie at least a dozen times. I definitely would have bought the third book. But now, I am not so sure. I guess I should still give it a chance to see for myself if Bridget is still likable and endearing without Darcy in the picture...but, blegh. I just can't get excited about it and I think I'd prefer to pretend this book didn't exist.

Another book that I grew to hate because of the mass slaughter of beloved characters is Mockingjay. I realize people have a lot of different opinions on this one, but for me, it didn't work. It began to feel like gratuitous violence. I think the author was probably trying to make a statement about the horrors of war, how you do become numb to it after awhile, or something, I don't know, but to me it felt like some of these deaths served no purpose at all other than to make the reader think "wow Suzanne Collins is so ballsy killing off all these beloved characters, how RADICAL!" And after a point I just began to roll my eyes at it.

I would argue that The Fault in Our Stars (SPOILER WARNING!!!!) is an example of a book where killing off the main character absolutely does work. I guessed what was going to happen in the book pretty early on, but it didn't ruin it for me at all. It felt inevitable, in a good way, and it made for a richer story. I sobbed when it happened, but I didn't feel manipulated or cheated. It was the right way for that book to end.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (SPOILERZZZZ) is another one where the main character is offed at the end and I didn't mind in the slightest, even though I did weep bitterly. I loved this book. In it, the main character dies in a car crash in the first pages, and then through the book gets to relive over and over again (similar to Groundhog Day) the last day of her life. She starts off completely self absorbed, but by the 8th or 9th try at the day, she has grown as a person and ends up doing everything right. I admit I held out hope until the end that she would somehow figure out a way to avert her own death, as often happens in these paranormal-ish books, but she doesn't, and it's for the best. It would have felt cheesy if she had lived and I think would have undermined the quality of the book.

Similarly, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors. This is a modern day re-telling of Don Quixote, so it's not giving much away to say that one of the main characters (the one modeled after Don Quixote) winds up kicking it in the end. But it is so well done here. It definitely tears at your heart, but in the best way possible. If DQ hadn't died in this book, it would have felt absolutely ridiculous.

So those are some examples of killings that worked for me. What about you? Were you outraged by what went down in the last pages of Mockingjay? (I was.) Is it ever ok for a main character to die in a YA book or is that sacrilege because these books are supposed to be hopeful and happy? Or do we forfeit our right to complain altogether because the author has artistic liberty to do anything she likes? Share your opinion in the comments!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

(short) Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Disclaimer: I read this book several months ago, so apologies in advance if my musings aren't the most specific and crisp. Alas, the mind is not as sharp as once it was.

Why I read it: Heard a lot of buzz about this puppy that was not even limited to the YA nerd realm I tend to orbit. Had some upcoming travels and was looking for a tolerable, non-gag-inducing YA book to get me through the trip. From what I had read about the book and its unconventional characters, this seemed like it might just fit the bill.

Initial thoughts: Whoa, the lead girl is not waifish, but rather full-bodied. Overweight, even. Way to go Rainbow Rowell: BREAKING DOWN CONVENTIONS, one pound at a time. I am all for it. I was drawn in right from the first pages when Eleanor is having such a rough time on the school bus. Blessedly, I did not have to take the bus to school in high school, but I am still a little traumatized from having had to take it in elementary school. It really is a snake pit. And that feeling of oh God where am I going to sit, did I wear the wrong thing, why is everyone looking at me, etc., is truly the worst. So, reading this, I felt like Rowell was pulling me right back to my own heinous times on the bus and could visualize the scene SO VIVIDLY as big, awkward, stupidly dressed Eleanor boards the bus on her first day at a new school and realizes there are no empty seats, and everyone on the bus watching her fumble wants to dig themselves a hole and crawl into it because the situation is so mortifying and awkward. Nothing unexpected or unusual happens in this scene; I mean really, how many YA books have we read where the main girl feels awkward and isolated? But the way it was done, through Park's eyes, with just the right amount of detail, was really spot on and gave me the impression I was almost certainly going to like this book.

Things I liked: I liked most things about the book, truly. This is character driven rather than plot driven, which is always a major plus in my book. Rowell does a great job at developing Eleanor and Park and showing how each of them grows over the course of the book. I especially liked the character of Eleanor. She felt really real to me, the way she compartmentalizes her heinous home life and so that she can function like an almost normal teenager when she's at school. I really liked the fact that she wasn't your typical skinny, pretty-but-not-pretty-but-actually-truly-divinely-beautiful Mary Sue type YA character.

Things I did not like: I honestly cannot think of anything specific I didn't like about the book. I will say that despite all the positive things I have to say about it, this book was not transformative for me, and it's not the type of book that really stuck with me all that long after. I've actually been putting off reviewing it because I was having a hard time imagining what I might say other than "yeah that was pretty good!" Which is fine - not every book has to be friggin Vampire Academy or The Arcana Chronicles, amirite?

In sum, if you're looking for a well-written (like truly much higher quality of writing than most YA books that take place in a high school) YA book about high school romance, you cannot go wrong here. It is a sweet book about on par with the quality of John Green's novels and I cannot really fathom anyone having anything the least bit nasty to say about it.

4.5 stars!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Character Names in Books

I am sure I'm going to miss some great ones, but, off the top of my head...

1. Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. Sounds so...lyrical! I always loved this name and am jealous Pullman used it first...otherwise I'd be tempted to steal it in my own efforts at fiction writing.

2. Dorothea Brooke from George Eliot's Middlemarch. So distinguished with just the slightest bit of frill. I like it.

3. Rose Hathaway from Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy. I've never been a huge fan of the name "Rose" before but I fell in love with the name in Vampire Academy. Rose the character is such a firecracker and "Rose" the name seems so gentle and lovely...the contrast really worked for me here.

4. Cormoran Strike from J.K. Rowling's The Cuckoo's Calling. Cormoran Strike?? Enough said. Brilliant.

5. Arwen from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. So simple and pretty.

6. Gilbert Blythe from L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables. At first I thought "Gilbert" was a ridiculous, dorky name, but it really grew on me over the time. And "Blythe" is lovelyyyyyy.

7. Bella Swan from Twilight. I'm not a fan of Twilight, but Stephanie Meyer nailed it with the name Bella Swan. It really rolls off the tongue pleasantly.

8. Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. Love the name Katniss. Love even more the nickname Katnip.

9. Jackson Deveaux from The Arcana Chronicles by Kresley Cole (who has an excellent name herself, in that her real name??). Mmmmm...

10. George Knightley from Jane Austen's Emma. My ultimate knight!

CANINE BONUS: Manchee from The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. MY HEART.....ahh, Manchee might just be the best animal character ever, like in the history of animals in books. I realize that is a huge statement to make, but I'm prepared to stand behind it. And he has such a cute name.

Thank you as always to The Broke & the Bookish for hosting Top Ten Tuesday!

PS: Just discovered this is my 100th post on here. Hooray!!

Review: The Cuckoo's Calling by J.K. Rowling

First of all, I think it is brilliant that J.K. Rowling decided to write this under a pseudonym. So refreshingly non-mercenary! I like to believe I would have guessed she was the author had I read it before her identity was revealed—the language is so classic J.K. at times!—but I probably shouldn't flatter myself. Unlike Cormoran Strike (what a name!), the sardonic, tortured, dashing (in my opinion) protagonist of The Cuckoo's Calling, I am no detective.

I loved this book. I could not put it down. And I never read detective books. I was on cloud 9 the whole time I was reading it, in love with J.K.'s wit and likable characters and mysterious plot. This is a whodunnit and J.K. keeps you guessing the whole time. At one point I did briefly wonder if the person who, as it turned out, actually did wind up doing it was in fact the villain, but I was far from convinced and spent no more time musing over this person's possible guilt than half the other characters in the novel.

A brief synopsis. Cormoran Strike is an Afghanistan vet-turned private investigator. When the book begins, he is in a rough state. He and his long-term girlfriend have just broken up, and his business is on the brink of collapse because he has no clients. Unable to afford a flat, he sleeps in a cot in his rundown office. So it feels like he's won the lottery when a man walks into his office and offers him an astounding sum of money to solve what he (the man) considers to be a murder mystery: that of this sister, a famous model/celebrity, whose death the police ruled a suicide. Though Strike initially believes there is nothing to this case and that the man is simply deluded by his grief, he reluctantly takes it on because he needs the money. With the help of his down-to-earth, endearingly proactive assistant Robin, he sets out to "solve" this case (i.e. convince his client that it was in fact a suicide), but soon begins to suspect that there might actually be something off about Lula's death after all.

There are numerous laugh out loud moments in this book. I read most of this on a long flight and probably annoyed the people around me by bursting into laughter on multiple occasions. If you've read the Harry Potter books, you know that J.K. is an expert at crafting characters who soon begin to feel like your own friends, so that you find yourself laughing along knowingly at the things they say. She does the same thing in The Cuckoo's Calling and it is delightful!

Also, I was impressed with the sheer amount of research J.K. must have done to write this book. This is not a fantasy novel, so she couldn't depend on her imagination alone; she must have done a lot of research about how the police and private investigators actually work in order to write this, and it was all very believable and well executed. Had I not known J.K. was the real author, I think I definitely would have thought it made a lot of sense that this had been written by "Robert Galbraith," whose bio claims he "spent several years with the Royal Military Police"—and that that experience is what enabled Galbraith to write such a convincing detective story.

I especially enjoyed watching Robin and Strike get to know each other. There is definitely chemistry between them, but no insta-love, praise be. They have a very pleasing banter. Strike is always on the verge of having to let Robin go (given the fact that he is bankrupt, he has no business employing an assistant), but he can't quite let himself do it, and Robin finds herself getting more and more addicted to the detective business, even though she could easily find another job for double the pay.

The only thing I didn't love about the book was the ending. Not what happened so much as how what happened was revealed. It seemed a little sloppy compared to the rest of the book. But it didn't ruin it for me at all, just a slight negative in a sea of positives. Apparently there will be more Strike books, and I am exceedingly pumped about that.

This is an adult book, with adult content and language, but I think many Harry Potter fans will enjoy it. I say this as someone who steered very clear of The Casual Vacancy, which sounded dead awful to me. In other words, I'm not just going to blindly praise anything written by J.K. Rowling simply because she completed my life by writing Harry Potter. The Cuckoo's Calling is truly really good!

4.5 stars!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

DNF Confession: This Much Is True by Katherine Owen

Why I decided to read it:
I read a great review of this on a blog somewhere and decided to give it a try, even though it is self published (well, published by something called The Writing Works Group, which I believe the author owns and only publishes books by her...) and I tend to steer away form self published books. But it was only 99 cents on Amazon so I took the plunge....

What I liked:
Tally's grief at losing her twin sister in a horrible car accident is raw and thick, never letting up for a second. It's really well done and believable. You can feel the weight that this loss has left on her entire family; the author manages to convey that weight on every page. It's suffocating, but...something like that should be suffocating. I was really impressed with how well the author depicted Tally's grief.

What I did not like: The writing seemed a little fanfic-y, particularly some of the dialogue. Sentences like "The image of her beautiful devastated face and haunting emerald green eyes stay with me"--uttered by a college baseball star--didn't quite ring true. Is "emerald green eyes" really a phrase you would expect to hear some famous jock utter? Well, it gets worse. "She has raven-black hair; well, it's more the color of dark-ground espresso, I guess. It's long?" Yep, same baseball player. I just don't feel like this is how ANYONE talks, let alone some sporty dude. So that was definitely off-putting.

There was also a lot of repetition. I think this could have benefited from a ruthless line edit. Example: "Still, there was something missing from their relationship and the guy wielded too much control. Something was missing in that relationship." This type of awkward repetition occurs several times over the first few chapters that I read and it was really jarring to me...I guess I'm used to reading books that have gone through the normal publishing process and have been rigorously edited.

The other issue I had a major beef with was the ballet story line. Tally is supposed to be this incredibly talented ballerina, utterly devoted to her craft. I have known real life aspiring ballerinas and read a fair share of novels about ballet, and the thing about ballet is that it really does take over your entire life if you want to be at all good. Even people who spend years of their lives practicing every day for hours, who have perfectly shaped feet and the perfect ballerina physique, are probably not going to end up actually making it as a professional ballerina, because it is literally that competitive and borderline impossible to succeed at. This is pretty common knowledge about ballet, I think. So, when Tally takes a four month break from ballet after the death of her sister (completely understandable), then returns, only to be told by her supposedly ironfisted ballet instructor that she is a superb dancer and--without even having to audition--has been offered a spot at some elite NYC ballet school (along with her best friend, conveniently), I had to put the book down because it seemed to be such a ridiculous manipulation of the plot. That would just never happen. You can't skip ballet for four months and then waltz back in and pick up exactly where you left off, not at that level! She would have had to do a lot of work to make up for the lost time and get back in shape. And I really don't think elite ballet schools are just sending out invitations to whomever...there are rigorous audition processes for these things. It just felt extremely contrived. As someone who loves a good ballet movie, book, or tv show (Dance Academy is my latest ballet obsession), I WANTED to like this, but was just way too unrealistic.

Why I ultimately gave up:
The best thing about this book (in the early chapters I read) was the very vivid, real grief that Tally and her family were coping with as a result of the death of Tally's sister. I really do think that was enormously well done. Unfortunately, there were just too many other negatives: namely the awkward dialogue and writing and then ridiculous ballet plot line. I have too many other books in my "to read" pile and would rather turn to something new than force myself to finish a book that just isn't doing it for me.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Feature & Follow: Favorite Magazines


What are some of your favorite magazines? Asks Alison Can Read and Parajunkee, hosts of the weekly Feature & Follow.

Wayell, this is going to be a boring one. I don't really read magazines unless I'm on an airplane (I luv the games in Sky Magazine! Who doesn't like a good round of sudoku?) or waiting room somewhere. I guess the only "magazines" I read on the regular are the Anthropologie and Pottery Barn catalogs I am constantly getting spammed with. And those mostly just depress me by reminding me I can never afford all the beautiful things!

When I was younger, I loved the American Girl Doll magazine, but that's about the only mag I can think of that I ever actually read consistently.

I hope everyone has the dreamiest of weekends. AU REVOIR!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

I am kind of ambivalent about this book. Based on the premise, I thought it would be a replica of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but it turned out to not really be at all, which was good I guess. At the same time, it didn't strike me as all that original either. All the references to the awesomeness of bands like The Smiths and The Clash kind of made me cringe, to be honest. I like those bands too, but it just got to feel a bit pretentious/name-droppy for the narrator to constantly go on about her superior taste in music and how liking The Smiths instead of something like Rihanna inherently makes her this incredibly deep person. I guess I've known one too many arrogant indie music snobs in my day and at this point I pretty much roll my eyes whenever someone starts spasming about the transcendent glory of The Smiths. We get it. You're a raging hipster.

That said, I guess I should be more lenient with Elise, as she's only 16. I am sure I said plenty of snobby and pretentious things about music when I was that age.

I could really relate to the character of Elise, up to a point. I was pulled in right from the first pages, as Elise reminisces about her long history of uncoolness:
I've gone to school with the same kids since kindergarten. And they knew what I was long before I did. I was uncool by fourth grade. How is it even possible to be an uncool fourth grader?
I so get this. I remember it dawning on me somewhere in the middle of fourth grade that most girls were no longer wearing the decorative floral leggings that I sported on most days, and that that meant something. They had made the switch to denim, seamlessly, and I was just this big dork wearing whatever flowery leggings and matching sweater my mom laid out the night before. Until then I had never thought about whether my clothes were "cool" or not, and I can still vividly recall the eureka moment when it first occurred to me that what you wear = fashion and decorative leggings = dorky. It was similar to the shock and horror I experienced on the first day of sixth grade, when all the girls suddenly showed up wearing mascara and thick layers of foundation. I thought I must have missed a memo. No one wore makeup in 5th did they all know to suddenly start doing it in sixth???

So I thought that part of it was really well done and relatable. Where it began to break down for me was with all the vicious bullying Elise experienced. I know teenagers can be cruel, but as a fairly dorky high schooler I have zero memory of being abused by the popular kids. There was a girl who bullied me a bit in elementary school, but by the time we got to high school, the popular kids pretty much just ignored me, leaving me to hang out in peace with my marching band friends. So it seemed a bit jarring to me that popular kids would go so far out of their way to constantly bully Elise, even stealing her ipod and creating a fake blog making fun of what a giant loser she was. The popular kids I knew at that age would have never wasted their time on such endeavors.

Maybe I am looking back on my own experience with rose-tinted glasses though. I stumbled across this horrifying article in the Daily Mail (I know, I know) today about a disabled girl who has been a victim of some of the worst bullying I've ever seen (death and rape threats from her "popular" classmates). If you don't want your day ruined, do not read this. Anyway it made me think that maybe the bullying described in this book is actually not so unrealistic and over the top. Woof. What sick world do we live in anyway??

Bullying aside, I was annoyed by a certain horrible action that Elise took towards the end of the book. I won't give it away here, but it was really, really bad, and just seemed out of character for her. I honestly felt like the author was manipulating Elise's character for the sake of the plot--it just didn't feel genuine.

Another thing that felt contrived was how no one would believe Elise when she told them she was not the author of the blog purporting to be by her. This seemed so painfully obvious to me. The entries are so over the top self-deprecating that I cannot believe no one suspected Elise might be telling the truth about not being the author. I just really didn't buy it.

Also, her supposed shock at Pippa getting mad at her upon finding out that she has been enjoying romantic trysts with Pippa's former lover? Did not buy that at all. Elise tells us she spent an entire summer reading issues of Seventeen and yet we're supposed to believe she somehow failed to comprehend the cardinal rule of don't go for a dude that your friend has the hots for unless you want some major drama?

Anyway, onto the good stuff. I enjoyed the romance aspect of the book. Elise starts hooking up with this DJ ("Char," short for "This Charming Man," a Smiths song, naturally) who is CLEARLY a tool with major issues and no intention of committing to an actual relationship. But she doesn't let herself get too swept away in it, and it never becomes the focal point of the book, thank God. I found that whole story line to be very believable and interesting, even if it felt like watching a train wreck in slow motion. And I like how the author resolved it.

I also enjoyed the writing. There were several laugh out loud moments, such as this episode of dark humor that occurs towards the beginning of the book as Elise is contemplating suicide:
So I made a long playlist of songs that I thought I wouldn't mind dying to. It wasn't like making a road-trip playlist or a running playlist--I had never killed myself before, so I had no idea what I would want to listen to when it was too late for me to skip to the next song. Like, maybe when you're dying you actually want to hear something really upbeat. Maybe when the moment came, I'd want to die to ABBA.
Lololol. Maybe!

I think a solid 3.5 stars for this one...would have been higher but for the grating name dropping and the few parts of the story that felt contrived.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books I Was Forced to Read

In roughly the order I read them:

1. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
I had to read this at some point in middle school. I don't remember much about the book itself but I do distinctly remember how obsessed I was with it at the time. In fact, I think I will add this to my TBR's been far too long!

2. I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier
Another middle school required reading book, I remember tearing through this and being left horrified, captivated, and depressed all at once by the end. Mostly I remember being really pumped that we got to finally read a cool book for school.

3. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
This was summer reading for freshman year English. I've read it multiple times since then and have watched the movie with Jane Seymour on countless occasions as well. WE SEEK HIM HERE, WE SEEK HIM THERE, THOSE FRENCHIES SEEK HIM EVERYWHERE! IS HE IN HEAVEN OR IN HELL, THAT DAMNED, ELUSIVE PIMPERNEL! Soooo good.

4. The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone
I believe this was summer reading for a world history class, maybe sophomore year of high school? It's a rare case of a nonfiction book that totally pulled me in and remains one of my favorite books to this day.

5. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Summer reading for senior year English. Took me the entire summer to wade through it but I loved it.

6. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
I read this for a college English class in Victorian literature. It is longer and more complex than Jane Eyre, and I absolutely loved it. I need to reread's the type of book that definitely requires multiple readings to fully digest it.

7. Middlemarch by George Eliot
I actually can't remember if I was forced to read this during that same Victorian literature seminar or if I read it because other English majors were shaming me for not having read it yet, but either way it was definitely imposed upon me in some form or another. And it was splendid! I've since reread it several times. George Eliot is a master at understanding and depicting the full complexity of human characters.

8. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
This was required reading sometime along the way in my English major career during college. I think it is probably my favorite Dickens book. 

9. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Required reading for Victorian lit. This one is kind of cheating. I don't love Elizabeth Gaskell and this actually was not my favorite book of all time by a long shot...but I LOVED the BBC miniseries with Richard Armitage. I know it is taboo to like a movie better than a book, but I felt the same way about Twilight actually, so what can you do. 

10. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Another Dickens masterpiece (many say it is his greatest novel and I might agree, even if I personally prefer Our Mutual Friend). I was guilted into reading this one as well and am very happy I did! Bleak House is the type of book that every English major is supposed to have read, as some people consider it the best novel ever written in the English language. Not sure I would go that far, but it's definitely an impressive tome and one I enjoyed reading. A must-read for anyone considering a career in law.

Thank you The Broke and the Bookish for hosting this lovely meme.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Musing Mondays: The Joy of the Rubber Duck

Despite the raging success of Moribund Mondays, I've decided to drop that activity for the time being and partake in a different, slightly less depressing Monday meme called Musing Mondays. It is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Today I would like to muse about something that is not remotely book-related, and yet something that is incredibly dear to my heart. Perhaps the dearest thing of all. It is: The Giant Rubber Duck!

For those of you who don't know about this sublime masterpiece, it is an enormous floating sculpture created by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman. It has been traveling the world for awhile now, having made stops in Hong Kong and Sydney among other places. It's currently located at the Point in Pittsburgh, where I happened to be visiting family last weekend. Naturally, I put all other plans on hold until I could see the Duck. When I did, I almost had a stroke. It was simply too much happiness to contain. Here is the duck itself, in all its splendor:

Why did the Duck move me so? Well, I have a long history as a duck lover. It is no coincidence that the mascot of Moy Drook Reads is a duck. I began drawing ducks in the 7th grade, as they seemed to be the only thing I could draw (still are, in fact). My duck sketches look like this (all of them):

But it isn't just my affinity for ducks that made me swell with glee as I approached my Beloved. Forgive me for the lapse into sentimentality, but it was honestly something about seeing thousands of people of all ages coming together to enjoy...a giant floating rubber duck. Everyone had a goofy smile on and people were going crazy "posing" with the duck to take silly photos.

The Duck just offers such a nice refreshing break from all the noise in life. There is nothing political or religious about the Duck, no angst's just this joyful, whimsical, enormous, unexplained floating duck, and I defy you to go see it and find that your day has not been enriched. 

Review: Max Barry, Lexicon

WARNING: This is not technically a YA book. It kinda could be though. One of the main characters is 16 and a good chunk of the book takes place at a school. And there is a "LOVE WILL SAVE US IN THE END" motif. But there is definitely some adult material in terms of rrrrromance and violence.

Anywayz. My dear friend lent me an arc of this book. I tore through it in a day and a half and could think of nothing else in the meantime. It's hard to summarize this without giving something major away but I'll try. Lexicon takes place in the present day, or even a few years earlier (Kerry is about to win the democratic nomination). There is a sinister all-knowing all-seeing team of conspirators (unclear if they are actually  linked to the government or just quietly running it from behind the scenes) called poets. The poets figured out that every human being can be classified into one of 300 or so personality types or "segments," and that once you learn someone's segment, there are specific words for that segment that you can use and the person, upon hearing (or reading) those words, will become "compromised" and essentially become your mind slave. The organization seeks out kids who demonstrate aptitude at persuasion and brings them to the academy to learn how to wield words and also how to build up their own defenses so they'll be immune to compromise from others. Most terrifying of all is something called a "bareword." The bareword transcends personality segments. If you utter the bareword, you can control anyone in the world and make them do whatever you want.

We learn pretty early on that a poet called Virginia Woolf (all poets get the name of a significant literary figure once they graduate) unleashed a bareword on a small town in Australia a few years back and it caused everyone in the entire town to die...except one person, a guy named Wil, who is now being hunted by the poets. The bad poets want to kill Wil because they cannot stand the fact that someone might be immune to their control. Then there are some good poets (or maybe just one), led by T.S. Eliot, that want to save him in the hopes that he can remember the bareword and help them prevent a future mass killing event.

I liked this concept a lot. It's dystopian, but it's not such a stretch. Max Barry makes it hauntingly believable. Like to the point that this type of thing could almost be going on right now in our society. There are a lot of references to the internet and social media and the fact that we constantly bemoan the increasing loss of privacy in America and yet show no restraint in terms of sharing personal info about ourselves on social media (SUCH AS THIS VERY BLOG, *SHUDDER*), opening store credit cards so they can track our every move, etc. And it is these personal tidbits that the Poets collect in order to figure out what segment everyone belongs to and wield total control over people with words.

The dynamic between Wil and Eliot was probably my favorite part of the book. They have a very pleasing banter, with Eliot always seeking to control his every emotion and having no filter when it comes to telling Wil how inept he is, while Wil is a complete basket case most of the time. Example:
"Do you trust me?"
"Do I trust you?"
"I phrased that badly," Tom (aka Eliot, who recently kidnapped Wil and almost murdered him) said. "I mean, if I tell you your life depends on doing exactly as I say, without hesitation, can I rely on you to do it?"
"Sure, Wil said, then, because that didn't sound very plausible, added, "Maybe."
"That's not really good enough. Maybe leaves you maybe alive.
then later, after a narrow escape from some bad poets, Wil asks:
"What's your plan?"
"These people, they're going to find us again, aren't they? They're looking for us right now."
"No doubt."
"So we need a plan."
Eliot nodded. "True."
"Do you have one?"
"You don't?"
"I have a short-term plan,"Eliot said. "I plan to finish your eggs."Wil said nothing. "Food is important. I'm serious about the protein."
"Do you have a plan or not?"
"Shouldn't you, I don't know, be concerned about that?"
"I am concerned about that."
"You don't look concerned."
"Would it make you feel better if I were sweating? Running to the bathroom to blow my cookies? It shouldn't. A panic state is not helpful to good decision making."
"It would make me feel better if we were moving," Wil said. "Like if you got your eggs to go."
"Well, I like to know where I'm going before I try to get there. It's a mistake to try to execute a plan before you've thought of one, in my experience."
It was just very enjoyable to see this dynamic develop between them. You can sense Eliot starting to develop a fondness towards Wil, even though he is extremely skilled at hiding it, and Wil gradually develops as well into less of a panicked wreck, though Eliot is loathe to give him any credit for it. I have rarely seen such realistic and also entertaining dialogue as in this book. You could really envision a movie with these two, kind of like a Sherlock and Watson vibe at times (I actually pictured a bumbling Martin Freeman as Wil).

One thing I was less enthused with was the character of Emily, who is recruited off the streets of San Francisco at age 16 to become a poet. Everyone keeps referring to her uncommon aptitude for persuasion, how even though that she's not good at self control, it's worth the risk in taking her on because she is incredibly gifted. But I just never really felt it. In her test to get into the academy, she has to persuade random people on the street to cross to the other side of the street. I am not bragging here but I honestly think I could have passed this test...all she did was say things like HELP! Or "Come grab a 50% off coupon to the Gap!" and people flocked over to just didn't seem that remarkable to me. I also never really felt that connected to her, which may in part be due to the fact that she's sometimes being controlled by other poets and it's not always clear when she's acting based on her own motivation or because she's compromised.

I also wish we would have learned more about the poets themselves, what their endgame was, what really motivated them to do all the crazy stuff they did, etc. Maybe I am just too used to reading series these days, but I kind of felt like this could have been expanded into two or three books, or just one much much longer book. That way the characters could have been fleshed out more and we'd learn more about the poets themselves.

Without giving away any spoilers, I will conclude by saying the final 30 or so pages of the book seemed to me to be a hot mess. Possibly this is because I was reading an arc and some loose strings were tied up in the final copy...who knows. I had the feeling that I missed some major element of the plot because I couldn't understand what was happening or why people were behaving the way they were. I reread those pages hoping to glean some more insight but still came up empty. If anyone has read the published book I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the ending.

All in all though this is one of those books that consumes you fully while you're reading it. The first 20 pages or so are confusing and a bit slow, but once you get through that it's over and you need to put your life on hold until you can finish. I was at a family event this weekend and almost lost it a few times when certain beloved family members had the audacity to try to talk to me while I was reading. In retrospect, I can see that I was the rude one, but it's not my fault! I was compromised...blame the bareword.

Though this is not YA, I think it will appeal to YA fans who enjoy fast-paced dystopian novels. There is definitely a romantic element to the book--one that I personally found irritating, but many YA fans would probably enjoy. It's a little longer than your average YA book but like I said, it consumes you, and you can still read the whole thing in about a day or two if you have some time on your hands.

4 stars !

Friday, October 11, 2013

Feature & Follow Friday

Today's Feature & Follow Friday, hosted by Parajunkee & Alison Can Read as always, is a bit different. Rather than droning on about our own likes and dislikes, habits and passions, we are to feature someone else's blog. My feature is.....

When I used to blog a lot in 2010, Anne and I would often swap comments. She always had really insightful things to say and excellent book recommendations, as she's a librarian! I am so happy her blog is still active. Hello, Anne!!!

Happy weekend to all!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Swoon Thursday: Swooning over JACKSON in The Arcana Chronicles by Kresley Cole

A very brief Swoon Thursday for you here. I decided I won't do Swoon Thursdays unless there is actually something serious to swoon about, and just as I made up my mind, I almost died from a swoon attack, thanks to Jackson Deveaux of the Arcana Chronicles!

There are so many swoon-worthy moments between Jackson and Evie in both Poison Princess and Endless Knight, but here is a short and sweet one that really got to me:
Before Selena and Jackson departed, [Jackson] gripped Matthew's upper arm, telling him in a steely tone, "You're goan to stay here and watch out for Evie. Earn your keep for once. You see a chance to kill or die for her today, you take it."
How charming, no??

Thank you YA Bound for this glorious meme.

Review: Kresley Cole, Endless Knight

Holy smokes! I can't believe it, but this sequel might have even been better than the first book (Poison Princess). I cannot possibly review this without spoilers so


Well, this book made me feel something that I have never felt before: genuinely conflicted about a love triangle. I've literally never had anything but the firmest conviction when it comes to love triangles about who I think the fair maiden should pick. Sydney/Vaughn/Will? Obv Vaughn. Rose/Dimitri/Adrian? Adrian is a nice guy, but no. The choice was clearly Dimitri.

And here we have one of the most appealing male characters of all time in Jackson, and so imagine my horror to find myself starting to cheer for Death about halfway through this book! What on earth?? Now that I've finished the book, I still have no idea...I think Jackson still has a slight edge in my estimation, but can't say I'd be devastated at a happy ever after between Death and Evie either. 

What I like most about this book is that all the characters are unique people with distinct voices, who develop over time. They all have flaws, and they all occasionally make terrible decisions, but ultimately, you find yourself rooting for each of them by the end of the day, even that treacherous cow Lark. I hesitate to say this because it is kind of a wild comparison, but I honestly think the last time I fell in love with such a wide cast of characters was with the Harry Potter series. Yep, went there.

Anyways. I wanted to hate Death...he's such a grump and then when you find out the truth about his & Evie's wedding, how he basically forced her into it, that didn't help his case either in my eyes, but at the same time he seems so sensitive and sad that I cannot help but root for him as well. I don't even know what I want to happen in this series!!

I'm sure others have speculated about this, but I have a major suspicion that Jackson is an Arcana. Someone (Death maybe?) mentioned that one of the cards has yet to be "awakened" and it will only happen after they kill one of the other players. LET THE RECORD SHOW that I am predicting Jackson will murder the lovers in the next book and then discover he's the Emperor or some other card we don't know about yet. Anyone agree??

Speaking of, is there ANY word on when the next book will be released? I have scoured Ms. Cole's website and can find not a peep about this. I might have to off myself if it doesn't happen soon, so any info is much appreciated.

5 STARS AGAIN!!!!!! 2 FOR 2!!!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Review: Kresley Cole, Poison Princess

I will not beat around the bush here. This is the best YA book I've read in AGES. It might be better than Vampire Academy. (!!!!) Don't let this schmaltzy cover fool you. (Maybe I am alone in this, but when I see a flashy jacket with overly gorgeous airbrushed humans, featuring a dude with bulging muscles looking directly at the camera with an un-ironic smoldering gaze, I assume the book is going to be a trashy romance novel. This book is ANYTHING BUT.)

From the first sentence of the first page, I was sucked in and could never put this down again. As it happened, I was stuck in an airport the day I was reading this, due to a volatile combination of tornados in my destination AND a broken airplane (pretty sure one or the other independently would have been sufficient to keep us grounded, but experiencing both simultaneously was extra special.) If I hadn't had a book as all-consuming as this to occupy my time, I may have gone into a homicidal rage, so thank you, Kresley Cole!

Where to begin. How about the beginning! As the book begins, a sadistic killer is waxing eloquent about his plans to torture and eventually kill a young woman, Evie, whom he has just lured into his house. Pretending to be a harmless young man who just wants to learn more about the people around him, he asks Evie to tell him her life story before and after the Flash, an apocalyptic event that occurred about 200 days prior. Little does she know, he has actually poisoned her hot chocolate with a sedative. He intends to imprison her in his cellar so that he can do gruesome scientific experiments on her body.

This warm & fuzzy narration then switches to Evie's POV as she tells her life story to the sadistic killer. As Evie begins to narrate, we are seamlessly transported out of this horror novel to a scene that could have come straight out of a Simone Elkeles or Sarah Dessen book, and the transition is so completely believable and well done that I was immediately certain I was going to love this book and need to read everything else Kresley Cole has ever written. Evie's story begins a few days before the Flash, just as she's about to begin her junior year of high school.  A popular cheerleader, she is nervous about seeing her football-quarterback-boyfriend for the first time in a couple months. But there is a twist: she hasn't spent the summer away at a sorority prep camp like she told all her friends; she's actually been in a mental institution. Evie has visions, hears voices, and her mother and doctors assume it's because she's one believes for a second that her visions of doomsday might actually be prophetic. *DUN DUN DUN*

So then she starts high school again and is dealing with all the typical YA stresses like feeling pressured by her boyfriend to move faster than she wants, developing a crush on a dead sexy cajun boy from the other side of the tracks (who is a dead ringer for Alex Fuentes of Perfect Chemistry but like also his own unique person), while also finding, to her horror, that her hallucinations have come back with a vengeance, even though she's still taking the medicine that seemed to have been working for awhile. And this whole time, as high school life goes on and normal things like breaking curfew, bickering with your best friend, and bantering with the bad boy in your English class occur, you, the reader, are well aware that the apocalypse is only days away and that 200 days from now poor Evie will find herself entrapped in the lair of a psycho who intends to mutilate and torture her to death. *CHILLS*

Ok I'm bored of summarizing and can't say much more without spoiling stuff anyway so I'll leave it there. I'm sure others have made these comparisons before, but if I had to sum up this book in one sentence it would be Stephen King's The Stand (his post-apocalyptic epic) meets Simone Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry with a dash of Hunger Games thrown in the mix. It's insane. The plot and world building are both so complex, so well thought out, the characters so vivid, developed, and for the most part likable, that I am just basically in raptures. It is so rare to read a book like this for the first time (I can assure you I will read this one many more times) and I'm just so happy I found it!!! If you've read many of my reviews (I KNOW YOU HAVEN'T BUT JUST BEAR WITH ME), you will know it is pretty unusual for me to get this excited about, believe me, this book is amazing. RAPTURES.

I love Evie. I love that she's not your typical YA Mary Sue character. She's not some dull, passive girl who never had a friend in her life until the hottest boy in school suddenly Discovers her and professes his undying love. She's already confident and feisty when the book starts, and she only gets more interesting and complex as it progresses.

Jackson has the sizzling charisma that SO FEW of these YA boys actually manage to vividly exhibit on the page. I would put him up there with Dimitri Belikov of Vampire Academy, which, for me, is really like beyond the highest praise I can possibly give. For any author that wants a lesson on SHOWING rather than this book, study these characters! Cole is a master!!!

Ok I will put a sock in it now. I'm almost done with the second book and panic is starting to set in as I realize I'll have to wait some ungodly amount of time for the third and final installment. It is rare these days that I feel compelled to even read a sequel, let alone a complete series, so let that be the final proof that this book is A GODSEND AND YOU MUST READ IT NOW.


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review: Kiera Cass, The Elite

As often happens with sequels, I did not feel that this book lived up to the potential of the first one, The Selection. I raced through it in a few hours because I needed to know what happened (which I suppose is a positive thing), but from early on I was constantly highlighting and making notes in my Kindle about various annoying, contradictory things America would do or say. I could not STAND her in this book.

I don't think I can write this review without spoilers, so ...there's your warning. THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS.

America is all over the place. She'll forget about Aspen for weeks on end, then Maxon does something to upset her (i.e. he is complicit in the public torturing of Marlee), something so bad she swears she's quitting the competition and can have nothing to do with the royal family anymore, and suddenly she's remembering that Aspen is "the one constant" in her life and decides to enjoy a steamy make-out session with him. Then a few days later, Maxon will do something utterly mundane like give her a blue bracelet and that stupid gesture changes everything again. A direct quote after she gets the bracelet: "And there it was, pushing up through all the worries: hope." I think it was probably that line where I officially started hating this series. A bracelet gives you hope?? He's already given her so much; I don't understand why one stupid trinket is enough to make up for all her concerns.

Maxon was also infuriating and inconsistent. He says he understands that he needs to regain America's trust after that whole torture escapade, but then grows frustrated with her for not being able to decide whether to marry him or not (a frustration I shared, but for different reasons). When she tells him she still can't decide about 3/4 of the way through the book, he responds:
That's not acceptable. I need an answer. Because I can't send someone who really wants this--who wants me--home if you're going to bail out in the end.
Excuse me, what? Am I the only one who remembers him telling her at the beginning of book 1, as soon as they become friends, that he'll let her stay until the very end, until it's narrowed down to just two people, if that's what she wants? But no, suddenly she's playing him and being selfish and behaving "unacceptably" - never mind that he's playing every girl in the Selection every second this ridiculous competition goes on. Humph!

Then she catches him making out with Celeste and all the doubts come rushing back, he's horrible, he's a traitor, he can't be trusted, he's just like that slimebucket Gregory Illéa! She's so fed up she decides to drop out of the competition, but not before going out with a bang. The Celeste thing inspires her to do the first actually decisive and brave thing (other than when she rushed to support Marlee in the torture scene) in this entire series: she goes on the Capital Report and proclaims that the caste system should be abolished. She opines constantly in the pages before doing this about how she knows it is an unforgivable thing she's doing and will result in her getting kicked out of the Selection. She knows what the consequences will be, but says she doesn't care and doesn't want to win anymore anyway: what matters is standing up for what she believes in!

So it provoked a major eye roll in this reader when, after everyone reacted to her presentation exactly as she predicted, and Maxon says she has to leave, she immediately begins apologizing and begging for him to forgive her.
"Maxon." The quiet plea in my voice made him look at me. "I'm so sorry. I was mad, and I wanted to . . . I don't even know anymore."
You don't even know anymore? Let me do you a favor and scroll back about five pages to the passage where you discuss your motivations at length!
He and Celeste were so much alike. Everything about them was a show. And I knew that he would spend the rest of his life sweet-talking the public into thinking he was wonderful, all the while keeping them trapped where they were. Just like Gregory.
 I sat down on my floor, legs crossed under my nightgown. As upset as I was with Maxon, I was even more upset with myself. I should have fought harder. I should have done more. I shouldn't be sitting here so defeated. 
I wiped the tears away and assessed the situation. I was done with Maxon, but I was still here. I was done with the competition, but I still had a presentation due. . . . I wasn't here to win anymore. So how could I go out with a bang?
Nothing about the Celeste situation, which provoked her to drop out of the competition and "go out with a bang" is resolved between this section and when she actually does go out with a bang, and yet as soon as it happens she is begging Maxon to forgive her. I thought it was really lame and that both characters were just completely inconsistent and kind of weak actually.

Another thing that drove me crazy was how she would only read a paragraph or two of Gregory's diary at a time, and then would declare herself too overwhelmed to carry on. Come on!!! This is clearly the key to everything, why don't you just sit still for a few hours and finish it!?!

But the most disgusting moment of all occurs after the rebel attack at the end of the book. The rebels attack and it is the bloodiest attack so far in the series...America sees a guard get shot in the chest and start bleeding out right in front of her before Maxon whisks her away to safety. She remarks, "I tried to slow my breathing and erase what I'd just seen from my mind."

Happily, she has no problem "erasing" it from her mind as she spends the next few hours canoodling with Maxon (whom she hated about 2 hours earlier). Not once do they pause to consider how many more people might be getting murdered every minute that passes as they sit comfortably in safety, talking about relationship woes.

The culmination of this selfishness occurs after they get out and are informed that 25 guards were killed in the attack. Only then does America think of Aspen:
I prayed that he was safe. I'd been so consumed last night, it hadn't occurred to me to worry.
Is this not the epitome of selfishness?? She saw bullets whizzing and a guard get shot in the chest just before she is taken to safety, and it didn't occur to her to worry about Aspen, or even her maids, her precious maids whom she constantly prides herself on being so nice to and treating like equals. Instead, she can only think of herself, her confused feelings for Maxon, her feelings on being a princess, HER HER HER. Speaking out publicly against the castes is one of the few times she does something brave and unselfish, but she takes it back the minute it happens because, selfishly, she's worried Maxon won't want her anymore.

At the point when she declared herself "too consumed" to worry whether Aspen had been slaughtered during the night, I let go of whatever lingering hope I had that she would come to her senses and pick Aspen. I now hope she winds up with Maxon, because I think they deserve each other. Aspen certainly deserves a lot better, and I have a hunch Lucy is after him, so maybe that will work out. I don't think I'll be reading the final book though so someone will have to let me know what happens.

The one good thing I can say is that I did race through the book wanting to find out what happens. It was very suspenseful and often action packed.

2 stars.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Review: Kiera Cass, The Selection

I admit, I was pretty skeptical going into this book. The Amazon summary made it sound like the author just borrowed ideas from Matched, Wither, and The Hunger Games and so I wasn't expecting to find much original here. But...all in all, I am happy to say I actually liked this more than I expected to. There were definitely some things that irritated me, but in general this wasn't bad!

 A brief summary of my own rendering. This takes place in the future sometime after the Fourth World War, in the Americas. The USA no longer exists: it has given way to a fragile country called Illéa, in which society is divided into a rigid caste system arranged by number, with ones being at the top (royals) and eights being at the very bottom (basically homeless). Our protagonist, America, is a five, which is a pretty low caste, meaning her family has often struggled just to put food on the table. Then the Selection happens. The Selection is this bizarre ritual whereby 35 or so of the most beautiful girls in the country are chosen to come to the royal palace in order that the prince may eventually choose one of them to be his wife. The whole "selection" process is televised for national entertainment (like a less bloody version of the Hunger Games). America is Selected (to be one of the 35)...only her heart already belongs to another. DRAMAAAAA!!!

America herself is pretty likable, if predictable. She's your typical YA heroine: unlike all the other lemmings in the Selection who go out of their way to suck up to the prince at every chance, America is a rebel! She refuses to wear tons of makeup and -- *gasp* -- would rather wear pants than a gown! She is actually rude to the prince! She doesn't even want to win the crown! So I'm sure it will come as a huge shock to everyone that the prince finds her irresistible. That whole setup was a little cliché...the trope of the feisty antiestablishment tomboy heroine. But that's okay, I still liked her, and I thought Cass did a decent job developing her and giving her her own voice.

I also very much enjoyed Aspen, America's forbidden lover. Aspen is a six, meaning he is even poorer than America. He's got a huge chip on his shoulder about dating a girl who is wealthier than him, which leads to him occasionally acting like a huge douche, but in an endearing way. And he is very sexy...I am totally team Aspen here.

So, I liked the main characters and I thought the book moved along at a good pace...I enjoyed reading it and never felt like it was a chore. However, there were definitely some drawbacks. First and foremost, all the rebel attacks on the palace. The rebel attacks amped up the action in the book, so that was good, but I just didn't really feel they were all that believable. Seriously, how do these imbeciles keep managing to break into the castle again and again? Maybe rather than spending a fortune on bringing 35 women into the palace and giving them each a team of maids and a new custom designed gown for literally every day they are there, the royals could use that money to amp up their security a bit? Like drop 5 of the girls and hire 5 extra security guards instead? I mean come just seemed a touch ridiculous that the palace could afford to host something as elaborate as the Selection, but then didn't have enough security to prevent vagabonds from breaking in again and again and wreaking havoc.

Also, the world building felt a bit off. I just kind of felt at times like there was a disconnect between the casual, almost normal way the characters talked to each other and how America conceived of herself and her situation and, on the other hand, the really rather grim situation she was actually in. Like she is participating in a really bizarre event...this one man is courting dozens of women who are expected to be okay with basically being objects with no autonomy--the entire thing is televised for national entertainment--all while rebels are constantly trying to break down the door and murder them all. The prince can kiss America today and then someone else the next day and that's just the way it is, everyone has to be ok with it. And you do see America occasionally acting out about that, but I don't know, it just felt a little superficial to me sometimes. It felt a little too much like our own world...I just thought the mood of the book didn't always match the subject matter. For example, when reading books like The Hunger Games, or even Divergent and Wither, you never really forget for a moment that this world is Different than ours in some seriously dark ways, even if there are similarities. The world building in The Selection just didn't have quite that complexity, I didn't think.

I started to get sort of bored about halfway through the book when it just felt like nothing much was happening except America and Maxon pulling their ears at each other, but then there was a major plot twist that I will not spoil for you here which was EXCELLENT and from that point on I was hooked. I have just purchased the sequel. Onward!

3.5 stars

Friday, October 4, 2013

Feature and Follow Friday

In this week's Feature & Follow Friday (hosted by Parajunkee & Alison Can Read), we are to discuss this question:

What book (or TV show or movie) have you not read that seemingly everyone else has?

You know, I never read A Tale of Two Cities. Sometimes I tell people I have, but in fact, I'm pretty sure what we read back in 7th grade was an abridged version. Shameful!

In the YA realm, I've never read The Mortal Instruments series. I tried once but got distracted. One of these days!

I've also never watched Lost and couldn't get into Arrested Development. It bores me!

Happy weekend to all!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

DILEMMA: Should I try to finish Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Boys or is it ok to give up???

I was not a huge fan of Shiver, but I read so many good things about The Raven Boys that I thought I'd give Maggie's writing another chance. And now, at 25% through the eBook, I am having a dilemma. I'm just not really feeling it. I keep forcing myself to open the book, trying to just plow through it so I can move onto something else, but it feels like a chore. And that is not why I read YA! I have to read plenty of things that often feel like a chore for my day job....but this stuff is supposed to be fun. It's a hobby, after all! So I'm tempted to cut my losses and give up now, but am wondering if people think that's a grave error. Maybe if I can stick it out for another 50 pages or so, I'll see what all the fuss is about? Anyone?

There are some things I like about the book: namely, Maggie's writing. I want to like this more than I do because it actually is really well written--much better than the average YA paranormal. I think Maggie has a really unique voice for storytelling. I love the third person POV; it's so refreshing when 99% of these books are done in the first person, and gives the author a lot more flexibility than a first person POV.

The opening chapters about Blue were okay, but at this point I'm feeling like her situation (the prediction that she'll cause her true love to die) is a lot more interesting than Blue herself. Maybe that shouldn't be a problem for me, but it kind of is. I just can't really get that invested in her yet. However, I was willing to give it more time...

And then we got to the scenes with the raven boys, and that's where this really started to grate on me. Maggie introduces us to what seems like a dozen characters all in one scene and it's just overwhelming/boring. I feel like this book needs a character chart! I cannot keep straight the difference between Noah, Adam, Declan, Ronan, etc., and I'm not really too motivated to try. Everyone is so angsty and has some depressing backstory that is alluded to in bits and pieces and I just felt like it was a burden to try to keep track. It really just didn't pull me in at all and I soon found myself skimming the sections with the raven boys (which, admittedly, probably contributed to my difficulty distinguishing one character from the next, woof, vicious cycle!).

Gansey's obsession with Glendower is an interesting concept, but at 25% through the book it's frustrating not to have any idea why he cares so much about this, why the other raven boys are similarly obsessed, who Glendower really was, etc. etc. etc. I just basically don't feel connected to the characters at all and since character development/relatability is the most important thing to me in these books, that's kind of a deal breaker.

HOWEVER. I am only 1/4 through this. Maybe it will get better? If anyone is a fan of this book I would love to hear some arguments for why I should plow on ahead! I really do like the writing and that's basically what's been keeping me going so far.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Review: Neal Shusterman, Unwind

So, my blog died for a few years, but during that dark time I was still reading plenty of YA, and plenty of YA dystopian novels in particular. Looking through my Kindle, I realize I've read the first book in a lot of these "hot" new dystopian series, such as Divergent, Under the Never Sky, Enclave, Matched, Delirium, and probably others I'm forgetting. I think I even enjoyed most of these. But, now that some time has passed, all of them run together in my brain. I literally had to look up the Goodreads summaries for each of them just now to even recall what each was about and what the difference between them was. Obviously, I enjoy these types of books as I'm reading them or I wouldn't keep devouring more. But at the same time, I think it's kind of telling that I couldn't remember whether it was Matched or Delirium that opens with a banquet  where the main character finds out who her husband will be, or whether it was Enclave or Divergent in which the protagonist has to go on dangerous missions underground to fight monsters and bring back food. Now, it could be that my memory is disintegrating as the ever darkening twilight of my 20's draws to a close, or it could be the fact that all these books are just really similar. Or some combination of the two.

Anyway, the point I am clunkily trying to make here is that of all these dystopian books I've read in the last couple years, the one with the most staying power is undoubtedly Unwind. The premise of Unwind is similar to Never Let Me Go, though the books are very different. From the Amazon tagline:  "In a society where unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts, three runaways fight the system that would 'unwind' them." The lead character is a boy named Lev whose family has decided to "tithe" him, meaning his body parts will be donated to the system upon his 18th (if I recall correctly) birthday. Lev considers this a great honor, until it starts to get closer to the hour of his "unwinding" when he begins to have some misgivings. The book is fast paced, well-written, with interesting, relatable characters who grow in believable and pleasing ways as the book progresses.

I read this book at least a year ago, but there is a scene towards the end that I still think of regularly and am still haunted by. I don't think it is giving much away to say that in this scene, a certain character cannot escape his or her unwinding. The unwinding procedure is detailed vividly and horrifyingly, with a good portion of black humor sprinkled throughout. It begins with this creepy passage:

No one knows how it happens. No one knows how it's done. The harvesting of Unwinds is a secret medical ritual that stays within the walls of each harvesting clinic in the nation. In this way it is not unlike death itself, for no one knows what mysteries lie behind those secret doors either.
What does it take to unwind the unwanted? It takes twelve surgeons, in teams of two, rotating in and out as their medical specialty is needed. It takes nine surgical assistants and four nurses. It takes three hours.

SHIVER. Anyways. Unwind has stayed with me in a way that none of the other dystopian blockbusters (since the Hunger Games) have. I highly recommend it!

A rare 5 star book for me.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Book Turnoffs You Encounter While Reading

1. Underdeveloped lead characters
This is my biggest pet peeve in YA fiction. It happens all the time. We have some protagonist who is described as having one or two personality traits (stubborn, passionate!) and a unique physical characteristic (something like red hair or violet eyes) and that's literally the extent of this character's development. It really chaps my rear end. A couple key offenders: Claudia in Evernight and Zoey in the House of Night series. Truly cannot abide. In contrast, for examples of truly well developed characters, look at Rose or Sydney in Vampire Academy/Bloodlines or Seraphina.

2. Underdeveloped romance 
This is related to the last one. I love a pair of star-crossed lovers. I am not ashamed to admit it. Rose and Dimitri, Will and Lyra, Merit and Ethan...mmmm. But the author has to convince me! And that takes time. Nothing grinds my gears more than than this type of scene (which happens ALL THE TIME in YA books): I walk into the room and a boy is there. Oh, my God. His eyes. His smile. Then, as if it couldn't get any better, he opens his mouth. Oh, my God, his voice. MARRY ME, BOY. Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration, but this really does happen constantly and it is so disappointing. Some key offenders: Meghan and Ash in the Iron Fey trilogy (which I loved very much otherwise!), Mary and Travis in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Nora & Patch in Hush, Hush.

3. Unconvincing/annoying love triangle
This is basically the same as #2. I love a good love triangle, but it takes work. I need to be invested in the characters and I need to believe that the member of the love triangle who has to decide between the two other members is actually invested as well.

4. Lame, incomplete, illogical, rushed endings
Nothing is more disappointing than enjoying a book only to reach the end and it feels like the author has just given up or was in a huge rush to meet a deadline so s/he's just slapped some stuff together to quickly wrap it up. Off the top of my head, the worst offenders that come to mind are The Reckoning (final book in Kelley Armstrong's Darkest Powers series), and The Girl of Fire and Thorns. I actually really enjoyed the Darkest Powers series up until The Reckoning and The Girl of Fire and Thorns up until the last couple chapters. It's not even that I was angry at how the authors decided to end the books; I just felt like the endings were sloppily done and not at the same caliber as the rest of the book. Humph.

5. Inconsistent/indistinct voice
This is linked to #1. I find that this problem is most severe in books where two lead characters take turns narrating. An example of a book in which it was really well done is Simone Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry. Alex and Brittany each have a distinct voice, and it really makes the split narrative structure work. Code Name Verity is another success. This might be an unpopular opinion, but I would list Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver as a failure here.

I know this is Top Ten Tuesday and not Top Five Tuesday but I have to run! Maybe I will update with another five later in the day. Thanks to The Broke and the Bookish for hosting this weekly event!

What are your turnoffs?