Review: Where We Belong

There are a few books that I’ve read, where I’ve been trucking along happily, really enjoying the story and then I turn a page and suddenly it’s over. The ending couldn’t be more jarring if it had ended mid-sentence. It kind of leaves me feeling a little sour about the whole thing, even though I did enjoy reading it.

Obviously, what I’m trying to say here is that I liked this book although I did not like the ending. To be fair, it wasn’t a really terrible ending. I mean, it could have been “all a dream” or someone could have unnecessarily died right at the end. I wanted the romantic “leads” to wind up together and they didn’t, and it left me feeling wanting. On the one hand, that makes me feel slightly betrayed as a reader, because I read fiction in order to be swept up into a story and my expectations were not met. On the other, however, doesn’t that show how good the novel was at making me root for these two characters to wind up together, that I am so disappointed that they did not?

Either way, let that be a warning for anyone who reads this book. Marian is a single woman at the end of this book. I do feel that it was well written, though. The perspectives go back and forth several times between Marian, a woman in her late 30s who is a successful TV producer and kind of high-strung, and 18-year-old Kirby, who is kind of a meandering young woman who doesn’t give a shit about just about anything. As the story progresses, they sort of blend together, keeping their distinctive personalities, but sharing the good sides of each other. Marian kicks back and relaxes a little, and begins to follow her heart rather than her rules. Kirby begins to see the good in people and starts to care more about her family and her future. Each character’s “voice” is distinct and clearly separate from the other, which is kind of difficult to do.

Giffin tends to interweave characters from her other books in her novels, and so I was delighted to recognize Claudia from Baby Proof, which I read several years ago. This makes me hopeful that Marian, Conrad, or Kirby will show up in a future novel (or maybe they have before!).

I realize that I haven’t detailed anything about the plot (other than the fact that this is not a satisfying love story), but you can glean pretty much all of it from the book jacket. Kirby is adopted, Marian is her birth mother. They begin a relationship and it is complicated. Which sounds like a boring book, but I did really enjoy reading it. I found it difficult to put down particularly when Marian and Kirby go to meet up with Conrad, who is Kirby’s father and Marian hasn’t seen since she first discovered the pregnancy.

I enjoyed this very much, but that ending. It cost my review one star. I bet in the movie version, they would end up together.

4 stars.

This book fulfills the book by an author you love and haven’t read yet requirement for the challenge.

Review: Sycamore Row

The writing style between this and A Time To Kill are very similar, but Sycamore Row is so much more polished, if a little less interesting. Part of that is the overall plot is just not as attention-grabbing as the plot to A Time To Kill. It answers a lot fewer “big questions” (is it okay to take the law into your own hands, etc), and becomes mired in a somewhat boring dispute over an estate. It only begins to get interesting when there is a BIG SECRET. Several of Grisham’s writing “tics” are present here as they were in the first novel, but not as overused. One of the biggest differences I noticed was a huge lack of the n-word. It was liberally sprinkled over A Time To Kill, but Sycamore Row is much more reigned in. He engages in a lot of telling rather than showing, which is not only a good rule for visual entertainment, but is also good with books. Near the end, he actually writes “As seasoned lawyers, they should have known better than to plan the rest of the trial” which is such a huge dun dun DUNNNN.

Essentially, the plot is that an old man who is estranged from his family commits suicide, leaving all of his sizable estate to a black housekeeper he had only known for 3 years. His surviving family is outraged, and so they hire some big guns and take it to court. The deceased has a long-lost and presumed dead brother who is found, and tapes a shocking deposition that illuminates exactly why this man left 24 million dollars to this woman. Being able to boil it down so concisely is part of its downfall. There just wasn’t much there to fill all 447 pages.

In contrast to A Time To Kill, I felt like the racial aspects were better, although not perfect. It was still exceedingly sexist. I was somewhat bothered that Ellen Roark doesn’t exist at all in this novel, even after in the conclusion to A Time To Kill she had been brutally beaten by the KKK and left to die, and that is basically how her story ends. It would have been nice for her to even make a cameo in this novel, at least so we know that she is doing okay. (I realize that most people wouldn’t have read both stories back-to-back, but she was a major character in the first!) Jake’s secretary at the beginning of the book is just as belittled as Ethel Twitty was, except instead of being old and ugly, she’s a lazy housewife. (C’mon, John…) It’s like he wants to emphasize that he is such a moral man because he is NOT TEMPTED BY HIS SECRETARY. Because there’s no way an ugly, old, or lazy woman would ever be tempting, am I right? The stand-in for Paralegal Ellen Roark in this book is Portia Lang, the black housekeeper Lettie’s daughter, who has just returned from being abroad and in the military, and now is interested in studying the law. How cool would it have been for Portia and Ellen to work together, and learn from each other? (Ok, I’ll drop it.)

I’m sure that my declarations of the sexism in this book are being scoffed by the two people reading this. So I have a selection of excerpts to share.

“I got the impression she’s a fairly typical black woman for these parts.” […] “Is she attractive?”

Jake and Dewayne exchanged a nervous handshake while shapely Kamila watched close by.

“Tell Carla I love her and lust after her body.” “She knows it. Later.”

Portia found her to be polite, gracious, and seemingly comfortable with another black female in the house.

The last one kind of is shockingly terrible. Why on earth would a woman be uncomfortable with another woman’s presence, whether they share a skin color or not? Are they dogs, sniffing each other and growling over territory? I kind of wish I had notated some of the even more terrible lines throughout A Time To Kill. Rest assured, it can be worse.

There is some minor fallout for Jake with regards to the Hailey trial, which is referenced quite a bit. Grisham doesn’t pretend that Jake isn’t an arrogant jerk (although, supposedly a moralistic arrogant jerk), and the troubles he is having collecting the insurance money on his charboiled house is due to that. His slimey divorce lawyer pal fixes that up for him rather conveniently, but there are lingering problems with the arsonists going free and many having not been charged at all. The KKK hasn’t returned, but there are mutterings that maybe they haven’t finished with Jake and so he carries a loaded gun in his briefcase to protect himself and his family. I did appreciate that small sliver of continuity.

My takeaway from this book is that is it okay. It’s fine. Nothing special. It’s much better as a piece of writing than A Time To Kill in many ways, but part of its problems began in that book and carry over to this one. The sensibility of the town is actually pretty good, and it may be both novel’s most fully developed character.

3 stars.

This book fulfills no requirements for the challenge.

Review: A Time To Kill (film)

I was hoping that the film version would take all the things that was wrong with the book and omit them, making it a more concise and engaging story. And in some ways, it does. The character of Carl Lee Hailey is one that greatly benefits from the movie version (as if Samuel L. Jackson could disappoint, am I right?), but a lot of the other characters actually get worse.

The biggest disappointment to me was Jake Brigance as played by Matthew McConaughey. I didn’t tip toe around how much I disliked the character in the book version, and I was hoping for a really interesting portrayal from McConaughey. The screenwriter even tries to give Jake more of a stake in the trial itself, because while Jake tips off Sheriff Wa_time_to_kill-aalls in the book about Hailey’s plan to kill the boys that raped his daughter, in the film he doesn’t – and he admits that he didn’t say anything because he was secretly hoping Hailey would go through with it. I recently read something about unlikeable characters in fiction and have thought about it a lot in regards to this book/film. I don’t necessarily need to like Jake to enjoy the story, or even identify with him. I need to be interested in his story. But he is so one-dimensional and archetypical that I find it hard to really figure out what he is about. And that is the failing here.

Kevin Spacey’s Rufus Buckley was so mustache-twirly that it would be almost laughable if it wasn’t so sad. Now, Kevin Spacey is a brilliant actor, and no one can dispute this. (Well, some people can.) But the dialogue was cringe-worthy. One scene in particular made me roll my eyes so hard. When we are first introduced to the district attorney, he gives us the exposition style dialogue that couldn’t be more blatantly talking down to the audience if they had tried.

“First, Brigance will file for a change of venue.”

“He’d be a fool not to.”

“Why’s that?”

“Why? Should we tell our young, uninformed law clerk the reality of jurisprudence?”

Really? The only way this could be more blatant is if he followed that with “Here is some exposition for you!” I wasn’t really a fan of Spacey’s fake accent either. Either play it straight or get a real Southern person in there.

In general, however, the movie gets the point across better than the book did, for sure. Books are generally longer than the movies they inspire, and so lots of things need to be cut. And there was a lot of filler in this book that could easily go. There are certain things that lend a little context or nuance to the book that isn’t present in the movie, but they pretty much hit all the important stuff, and even found time to add in a bunch of random, unnecessary things. They decided to make Brigance and Roark have sexual tension and even address it in a couple of scenes, which are not in the book as such. I could probably write an entire post just on the relationship between these two characters, but I’m mostly just happy they decided to let Sandra Bullock wear a bra.

The KKK subplot is handled differently here, and I think I found it slightly more satisfying. I think Grisham had anticipated writing more stories about Ford County (as he pretty much admits to in the introduction to the edition of A Time To Kill that I read), and abandoned the idea when his “legal thrillers” sold more copies, and perhaps the KKK would show up in another Jake story, which they sort of do in Sycamore Row. In the film, there is a rogue cop on the KKK side, and somehow Sheriff Walls figures that out off screen, because he makes it clear at the end when he confronts the other instigators.

One of the casting head-scratchers was why they chose to cast both Donald and Kiefer Sutherland in fairly major parts but not have them be related to each other. You would have to be pretty blind not to notice how much they resemble each other. Donald is the alcoholic mentor and former lawyer and Kiefer is the white trash brother of one of the rapists.

Finally, I think the late Roger Ebert said it best in his review of the film, which goes double for the book:

One wonders why more screen time wasn’t found for black characters like Hailey’s wife. Maybe the answer is that the movie is interested in the white characters as people and the black characters (apart from Carl Lee Hailey) as atmosphere. My advice to the filmmakers about the black people in town: Try imagining they’re white.

 

Review: Captain Marvel: Higher Further Faster More

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I don’t know when I became the type of person that is interested in superhero comics but here we are. I heard about this graphic novel from the Worst Bestsellers podcast (which you should definitely check out if you enjoy hearing snarky reviews about badly written books) end of year special, and the idea that Captain Marvel had a bad tempered cat that no one could stand so she had to take him into space with her – I was sold. That is only a very small part of the story arc in the 6 issues that are collected in this trade, but it is still one of my favorite parts.

Some prior knowledge of the Marvel Universe is necessary to understand certain parts. Since Parker is very much into superheroes, I had enough passing knowledge to make it through although there were some parts that I was thinking I could use some more context. For example, I knew that Rhodey Rhodes is a friend of Iron Man’s, but I didn’t know he was also the Iron Patriot. There was also an old woman at the beginning of the story who I didn’t know anything about, other than that she is an old woman. Captain Marvel meets up with the Guardians of the Galaxy shortly after going to space, and and I knew enough about them so that it wasn’t horribly confusing. (I did have to clarify a few things – “So, Groot just says ‘I am Groot’ all the time? Is that his thing?”) I also had no context for Star Lord and J’Son’s animosity toward each other, other than they are father and son and don’t agree on nebulous “things”.

But to the story. Captain Marvel finds an alien girl trapped in some kind of device that she initially thinks is some kind of nuclear weapon. She volunteers herself to go into space because she needs some “alone time”. On her way to return the girl to her home planet, she encounters some bad guys who inexplicably fire first and ask questions later. She is aided by the Guardians, who come on her ship to help fix it. Rocket Raccoon freaks out when seeing her cat and starts shooting his weapon at it, saying that it is a Flerken, which apparently is not good and lays eggs. After getting Rocket to stand down, they have exposition time about alien girl and her home planet which is apparently poisoned. Alien girl overhears and goes berserk, wanting to kill Star Lord after she learns that he is J’Son’s son. Once they get that misunderstanding sorted out (as Star Lord and J’Son are clearly not friends), Captain Marvel takes alien girl (who’s name is Tic) back home.

She is not greeted with open arms, as these people (which appear to be many different alien races) are sick and tired of the run around they are getting with the council or whatever the governing body is. They have sick people and so they don’t want to evacuate and leave them behind, they have no air force with which to defend themselves, and the space pirates that attacked Captain Marvel earlier are preventing supplies from reaching them. They are in dire straits. Captain Marvel assembles a rag tag team and they go off to figure out what goods there are that the pirates are preventing them from having. It turns out that the poisoned planet (Torfa, I think) has a giant vibranium mine and the off-gassing from the expedient removal of it is making everyone sick!

I really enjoyed this story arc and I am very interested in where it continues to go, especially since I think Chewie will figure prominently in the next trade. (Spoiler alert: Rocket was right.) It’s nice to see some kick butt ladies for a change. Captain Marvel’s team was mostly female, which was neat (3-2 ratio). This makes me pretty excited about the movie they are making about this character, and I can’t wait to see more.

5 stars.

This book fulfills the read in one day requirement for the challenge.

Review: Everlasting (Kissed by An Angel Book #5)

The action ramps up further in this installment, and in almost exact parallel to the second novel of the first trilogy, we find out who the real mastermind behind everything is. I have to say, there were so many red herrings, I was actually surprised by who it ended up being. The overarching mysteries aren’t resolved yet, so the third book will have to tie up the loose ends on both Gregory and what really happened to Corinne. I saw a rumor on Goodreads that there are supposed to be 7 more books, but I can’t find proof of that anywhere, so I’m guessing it isn’t a thing.

In the previous book, it was established that Gregory had occupied Beth’s mind, and he was trying to get at Ivy through Beth. The particulars of Beth’s “possession” have been the first supernatural aspect that I didn’t buy into at all. It was too much. She doesn’t talk to anyone, looks vacant and her pupils are so dilated her eyes are black, has personal seances in her room, and does other weird things. Not to mention she disappears randomly. And apparently Ivy is the only one who notices, and even she brushes it off until about halfway through the book. Kelsey and Dhanya are barely in this book too, after being somewhat prominent in the 4th, and I had kind of liked the dynamic with all four girls. This book tends to pit Will and Beth against Ivy, as they are suspicious about her relationship with Guy/Luke, and Beth begins to drop hints that Gregory is actually possessing Ivy to Will, despite how Beth is the one acting strangely.

Tristan has come back, but is now in the body of Luke, who died the night that Ivy had the car accident. The circumstances around Luke’s death are unknown, except that when he died he was on the run as the suspected murderer of his long-time girlfriend, Corinne. Ivy and Tristan are trying to clear Luke’s name, so that they can live happily ever after. This takes them around a few places near the inn, talking to various people who had known Corinne and Luke. One of the frat boys that Kelsey and Dhanya have befriended, Bryan, was close friends with Luke when he was alive, and so he begins to help them try to find out what happened to Corinne.

Of course, at the very last minute, they discover that everything has been caused by Bryan from the beginning. He is the one that killed Corinne, and then he got Luke, and then he got Alicia, who Ivy had been able to get an alibi for Luke from. The book ends eerily similarly to book 2, where there is a train bridge and jumping and OH NO WHAT HAPPENED END OF BOOK! Of course, things are slightly more complicated, as Lacey ominously implies that Tristan’s time on earth is about to end. Also, Beth tried to suffocate Ivy in her sleep earlier, then almost hung herself off a church bell tower minutes before the end climax.

I haven’t been able to track down an inexpensive copy of the final book yet, so I may just have to wait on pins and needles for awhile while I look for it. I’m assuming that Bryan is also the one that crashed into Beth and Ivy at the beginning of the 4th book, although Chandler hasn’t explicitly said so. I’m also unsure where this Gregory story is going either, as when Ivy and Will prevented Beth’s attempted suicide, his spirit apparently burst out in a shock of lightning and maybe hit something else.

Again, the book does not work as a stand alone. This entire series has been a weird start and stop journey, somewhat awkward and strangely broken up. I was very interested in the story, but on its own, it just doesn’t work. There is enough explanation in the opening chapters to have mostly skipped book 4, and I almost wonder if that will happen in the final book, where you can just skip the 4th and 5th books and still get most of the story. I really wish I could interview the author and find out exactly why the books were divided in this way. Was it a deadline? More money for writing three rather than one large book? Mistrust in the attention spans of YA readers? So bizarre.

4 stars.

This book fulfilled no requirements for the challenge.

Reading Challenge March Wrap Up

***UPDATE: I realized last night that A Time To Kill is over 500 pages! So I checked off yet another box on the list. I also made some other edits to this post in bold.***

This month was pretty epic in terms of how many books I finished. It does sort of feel like cheating, though, because 3 of them were those short YA novels that should not have been split into multiple books. But I completed 5 books this month, and checked off 7 more boxes.

First, I finished off the first set of 3 in the Kissed by An Angel series, The Power of Love and Soulmates. I was surprised by how little of the plot I remembered. I basically only remembered the poor kitty’s demise, and everything else I thought I had remembered was not in the book. I particularly thought that Eric was the character that plummeted to his death from the train bridge, not Gregory. I then started the next three books, with Evercrossed. So far, I’m in for the ride, but it is definitely jarring for the characters to have time-traveled to the age of Google.

Between Soulmates and Evercrossed, I finished Divergent. This is a very unpopular opinion, but I liked this book more than I liked The Hunger Games. Maybe it’s because it wasn’t as horrific, or maybe because I find Tris slightly more relatable. It is also a refreshing change that there wasn’t a love triangle. Why does YA dystopian fiction always have a love triangle? (I do need a love triangle for my challenge though…) I have now seen the movie for Insurgent, and I’m anxiously awaiting my turn for the ebook from the library.

The other book I completed this month was A Time To Kill. I really expected to enjoy this novel, at least as an easy light read (as light as a story about rape and murder can be, I guess). I hated it! The writing was clunky, the characters were one-dimensional and uninteresting, and it was so racist and sexist I could hardly get through it. It definitely is a “first novel” because it is somewhat “unpolished”, but I’m not sure some light editing could fix that. I have the movie now and I plan to get to it fairly soon and see what they did with the story.

I started Where We Belong by Emily Giffin as my “latest book by author I like” (as I mentioned in my February wrap up post). So far (2 chapters in), I really enjoy it, but as it is a dead tree book, I haven’t gotten much chance to read it. And since I picked up the 5th book in the Kissed By An Angel series from the library, Giffin will have to be on hold while I read that one. Physical books are just so difficult for me to get to with little ones!

I started Emma by Jane Austen and got a few chapters into that one before Sycamore Row by John Grisham came up on my ebook holds from the library. So I’ve switched over to that one as well, seeing if Grisham’s writing has improved any in the past 25 years. (Spoiler alert – sort of.)

I recently discovered that Britney Spears wrote a novel (wut?), and I’m seriously considering that as my negatively reviewed book. But the thing is, the reviews aren’t all bad. It’s hard to separate the fangirl reviews from the serious ones though. I don’t know if there are any books that are considered awful by everyone. Maybe I can get some advice here – should the critical/literary reviews be bad, or should the Goodreads and Amazon star ratings be bad?

I’ve made it through three months and I’ve checked off 21 out of 50 boxes on my list and completed 10 books total. I’m getting there!

Review: Evercrossed (Kissed By An Angel #4)

The fourth book in this series, and the first book in the second set of three, Evercrossed was a quick and entertaining read, but it paralleled the very first book in that it mostly just sets up whatever action is bound to take place in the next two books. I’m interested enough to keep reading through the next two books, if I can find them without paying the ridiculous $8.99 per installment price that Amazon wants to charge me. (These books are only a little over 200 pages, this is highway robbery.) Again, I feel that this does not work at all as a stand alone book, and I’m not really sure why it is. It’s not that YA readers can’t handle a higher page count (the recent influx of dystopian YA paperweights attests to this), so I’m not sure why the author felt the urge to split it up rather than just package the whole thing together.

In my review for Soulmates, I wondered if Chandler was going to add in modern technology or skip ahead ten years (or 20 years, as that’s how long it was between books 3 and 4). iPhones, Google and GPS devices make an appearance, but not Facebook. Which is a slight oversight, considering the story hinges on a missing person case. I don’t feel like the author really committed to it, and only 1 fictional year has passed between the two books. It definitely doesn’t make sense for cell phones to be ubiqitous now when they weren’t then.

So lets get into the plot. One year has passed since the car accident that took Tristan’s life, which happens in Book 1. Ivy and Beth are spending the summer in Cape Cod, helping out Beth’s aunt Cindy at her inn or seaside motel or whatever it is. There are two other girls, Kelsey and Dhanya (fixed on April 2, 2015) who are kind of entitled party girls, and because of them, the four girls end up playing with an Ouija board and contacting a spirit. This, along with a car accident that causes Ivy to die for a few moments, is the catalyst for some new spiritual activity between the friends. While Ivy is recuperating in the hospital, she meets this guy who has amnesia. He was discovered near where the car accident happened, and as they begin to form a friendship, she begins to suspect that Guy is actually Tristan, come back from Heaven. Beth and Will are suspicious of Guy, and think that he is actually GREGORY, come back from… well, wherever he was.

When Ivy has the accident and it is clear that she is having an out-of-body death experience, I started groaning inwardly. Oh no, is Ivy going to be the angel now? But thankfully, the book did not go this direction. I’m definitely interested in where the story is going from here. They’ve introduced some other characters that are definitely sketchy, so there could be many conflicts to arrive over the course of the next two installments. But, as a stand alone, this book just doesn’t have much going on in it.

3 stars

This book fulfills no requirements for the challenge.

Review: A Time To Kill

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I’m as surprised as anyone by how much I absolutely hated this book. It really doesn’t have that much to redeem it. I’ve read some other Grisham books before, and I don’t recall them being this terrible. Almost every page had something new to make me irritated.

First, the plot was decent. So it has that going for it. But getting to the bones of the plot was this strange meandering journey, filled with random asides that were flushed out way more than needed and then completely discarded. I wondered why we had to know so much about Dell, the waitress at The Coffee Shop, when it wasn’t necessary at all to the plot or main characters. Certain aspects that were brought up would have aided in world building if they had come up earlier, and then referenced again later, but I felt like a bunch of things (like this really long aside about the secretaries getting lunch at 11:50 sharp in the square) completely stupid and unnecessary, and pushed back actually interesting things. Details are invented and then discarded, some things seem to contradict, and some are just downright confusing.

The book was also pretty offensive. Things like rape and racism need a gentle touch, and maybe the same story in another writer’s hands would have been amazing, but in Grisham’s hands it surely wasn’t. This is a story where a young black girl is raped and her father shoots the rapists and is on trial, but the protagonist is a white male lawyer. We are supposed to sympathize with him, as the womens and the blacks are all brushed off as intellectually subpar. But Jake Brigance is an arrogant jerk who is pretty unlikable. Really, he seems to be the definition of a douchebag. He treats his wife like a child, his clients like pests, and the law clerk that offers her services for free as a seductress, not to mention a bleeding heart liberal that doesn’t wear bras (it’s apparently very important to know that she DOESN’T WEAR A BRA – as it is repeated at least 4 times). The n-word is used so many times I felt like it was just randomly inserted as much as possible. I just feel kind of icky that these topics are being handled by a white man and without much grace.

I was amazed at the amount of typos there were in a book that is more than 25 years old, which has likely undergone several revisions. Some of it could be attributed to the transfer from page to ebook, as that is how I read it, but others where definitely spelling errors (venear isn’t a word). I was also jarred by the use of the term “Kluxer” instead of Klansman, which is what I’m used to seeing. A quick Google search shows that is has been in use before, but not much. So I’ll let that slide, but it’s a strange way to see it written. More than half of the chapters begins with the name of a random character, introducing that character, and going on to the main plot again. This device wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t keep happening over and over. It got to be really noticeable.

And the resolution. Generally, in a courtroom novel, the case builds and comes to a rising conclusion, typically with a major breakthrough or amazing closing argument. The main action of this lands “off screen”, and seems to be a non-sensical random chance. The reason the jury decides as they do almost makes no sense. It only ends that way because it is the best possible outcome. A lot of the loose ends just don’t get tied up or even mentioned, particularly in reference to the KKK. They just … leave? Well, okay then, I guess they weren’t serious about being a threat.

I plan to follow this up with a review of the film version (which is on its way) and a review of the follow-up novel by Grisham, entitled Sycamore Row. It was published in the past few years, so I want to see if it still is as terrible as this one, or if this one is just bad because it is the first book he ever wrote. For now, I’m left with a not very pleasant picture of Mr. Grisham.

2 stars.

This book fulfills the first book by a popular author requirement for the challenge.

 

Review: Divergent

I saw the movie first, so that sort of colors things a little. It is not really the same story, although the bones are basically the same. 

This is a dystopian young adult novel, the first part of a trilogy, about a 16 year old girl named Beatrice Prior. It takes place in a post-war Chicago, where people are divided into 5 factions that all contribute to society in different ways. It’s like the McDonalds of society, where everyone has a narrowly defined place in the greater structure. At 16, each person chooses if they will stay in the faction they were born into or transfer to a new one. Beatrice begins in Abnegation, which is selfless yet in charge of governance. She chooses Dauntless, a wild and crazy bunch of pierced and tattooed soldiers who are trained to defend the city from threats. What threat there could be is never specified, and only briefly does Beatrice wonder what is “beyond” the fence.

Once at Dauntless headquarters, she is thrown into death defying stunts and training in order to prove herself. She slowly begins to uncover a plot from Dauntless, spearheaded by the brainiacs of the society – the Erudite faction – to overthrow Abnegation and take over governance. 

Oh, and to throw a wrench into the whole thing, Beatrice (or, as she renames herself once joining Dauntless, Tris) is something called Divergent. This concept is not really explained, mostly because we are on this ride with Tris herself, and no one has explained it to her yet. But she deduces that this is not a good thing and she is in mortal danger. 

I heard this series was great awhile ago, but was convinced not to read it but some that said it was a big ol’ meh. The movie did pique my interest, and I have to say, it has a lot of very interesting ideas in it. The world building is great, there are lots of asides that explain how things work within this society without being exposition heavy. 

One of the most interesting aspects to me about it is the sense that Tris has about her identity, and how she is conflicted about where she truly belongs. It’s something that she struggles with throughout the book, first that she doesn’t feel like she is selfless enough to be Abnegation, and later that she isn’t brave enough to be Dauntless, and so on. She goes back and forth, and her instructor/boyfriend Four expresses this out loud. He wants to be all the qualities that each faction espouses, not just one. Tris also talks about how she can trade one poor trait for another, when switching factions or loyalties. 

There are a lot of unanswered questions as the book ends, and I’m interested to see which way the story develops. I hear the ending of the third book is rubbish, but I’m in for the ride now.

4 stars (no pun intended)

This book completes the book made into a movie, written by someone under 30, one-word title, and set in the future requirements for the challenge.

Review: Soulmates

The final story in the original trilogy of the Kissed by an Angel series was good, although I have qualms. I’ll get to those.

First, the actual story was still good, in my opinion. The action ramps up very well, and it definitely gets to that white knuckled suspenseful climax. I felt like the motivation for Gregory was believable. Ivy reacts to the threats around her in very believable ways. For instance, near the end she finds some evidence that is very damning. She immediately brings it to the police station instead of hiding it somewhere in the house or in her pocket, where it could be snatched away at the last minute, putting her in even more peril. The threats were scary and well conceived. 

I do have a few nitpicks. I thought the love story between Ivy and Will was contrived. They start hinting at it very early on, possibly in the first book, but it feels so rushed. The 3rd book takes place somewhere in the vicinity of October, just a few months after the accident which killed Tristan. Ivy and Tristan were only dating a few months but were in L-O-V-E, and then before he’s even been gone 6 months she is already in love with someone else, all the while Tristan as an angel is still around? Much too fast, even for flaky teenagers.

I also didn’t like how insane Gregory became in the big scene on the railroad tracks at the climax. A couple lines about possible drug use could have explained it away, but he seemed really unhinged despite being a calm sociopath before that. I could also have done without the screaming demons in the background. It was a little over the top, even for a supernatural romance.

Otherwise, this was a great story, and I’m really excited about reading the next three books. I think it held up pretty well over the last 20 years. The second set of three were written in 2011 so it might have an entirely different feel to it, considering how technology has changed so much.

4 stars.

This book completes the mystery/thriller requirement for the challenge.