Review: Cinder

tl;dr: imaginative futuristic retelling that makes Cinderella better


The story:

Fairy-tale retellings and remixes are fairly [heh, pun intended] popular these days. My 5 year old is devouring Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories, which involves a myriad of fairy-tales and nursery rhymes in a delightful romp, all interconnected by immense world-building and an imaginative story. Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles may be the YA version of this, incorporating other extremely popular themes for YA lit. It’s got a love story (although it’s not really the focus), an awkward teenage girl, and futuristic/sci-fi elements. I wouldn’t really call this a dystopia, although it borrows pretty heavily from a lot of other dystopian trends. There’s abject poverty, close living arrangements among the poor, a vaulted upper-class, copious technology, androids, and a plague that’s systematically killing off citizens.

Continue reading

Review: Wonder

Book-cover-Wonder-by-RJ-PalacioThis book was for my other book club. I only knew the blurb from it, but I quickly realized it was YA. YA fiction has a certain feel about it that distinguishes it from novels meant for adults. There’s a rhythm to the words, the phrasing, and some other je ne sais quoi that just makes it different, aside from just the main characters being younger.

Wonder is mostly about the first year that August, a 10 year old boy that suffers from a very rare facial abnormality, attends middle school after being home-schooled his entire life. The book changes perspectives from him a couple of times, letting us see things through his sister Via’s eyes, Justin (Via’s boyfriend), two of August’s new school friends, and a friend of Via’s that has somewhat drifted away in the past several months. The book tries to distinguish between the voices of the characters but since there are so many, it doesn’t succeed all that well. The most unique voice is Justin, since he barely uses punctuation.

The subject matter itself was interesting. Unfortunately, not a lot happens in the book. It isn’t really coming to a climax. It just details the trials over the year and peters out to a somewhat happy conclusion. The primary antagonist, Julian, pretty much disappears about halfway through the novel. He is conveniently whisked away and will not be attending that same school anymore. There is apparently a chapter from Julian’s viewpoint and I will probably read that one because when we discussed it in the book club, apparently that was the best chapter!

I feel like this book is great for YA, but kind of meh for adults. I hope that lots of kids read it and glean something from it.

4 stars

This book fulfills no requirements for the challenge.

Review: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

AreYouThereGod11

This book seems to be the quintessential preteen book for girls. I am 32 and have never read it, but it was still out there in the ether and I knew mostly what is what about: periods and wanting to not be flat-chested. But this book just didn’t live up to the expectations I had. I wonder if there were not and continue to not be any books that deal frankly with puberty.

This book isn’t really about those things though, and it suffers from lack of real direction. By far, the more interesting plot line is what is happening between her parents, and the battles over religion. In some ways, we are shown glimpses of adult problems through the viewpoint of an 11 year old girl who honestly could not care less about it. That angle I find interesting. A story within a story, if you will. But the actual forefront of the story about Margaret navigating 6th grade in a new school and the onset of puberty was severely lacking.

Aside from the staggering amount of typos, this has not aged very well. I was also a little disappointed to discover that the book had been updated and edited in order to reflect changes in feminine hygiene products (we no longer use something called menstrual garter belts, they have adhesives now). There are a lot of things in this book that don’t make sense in the context of the modern age, and I feel like those other things should have been left in to give a more complete picture of what growing up in the 1970s was like. My biggest problem was the character of Mr. Benedict, the 6th grade teacher. Blume explains that he is new and this is his first year teaching, but this guy is completely inappropriate. In what way is it okay to give a student the 3rd degree on how they feel about religious holidays? Don’t give a writing prompt of “I hate” if you don’t want students to strongly dislike things. Of course, in 2015, most public school teachers probably stay far away from discussing religion with students.

Another huge issue is the complete dropping of plot threads. There are no resolutions in this book. The book ends during summer vacation, when we don’t know how Margaret did on her year-long project (what teacher assigns a non-graded year-long paper?), how things resolve between her and both sets of grandparents, how her mother feels, even how she feels at all about religion other than a big shrug, and if anything will ever come of her and Moose. Instead, we get Margaret starting her period. Hurray, she’s not the last one of her “friends”.

Also, in reference to those “friends”. They call themselves the “PTS’s” or some such nonsense, and they are horrible to each other. Are they supposed to be the “popular” girls, or just a clique? It’s really hard to tell since, although there are more girls than boys in her 6th grade class, the only other girl that is ever mentioned is Laura Danker, who apparently has boobs and is tall, and all the boys can’t stop teasing her. Margaret even thinks her 25 year old teacher is attracted to Laura, which is bananas. These kids are 11 and 12!

I want the story about Margaret’s mom, Barbara. She seems to be the most interesting person.

2 stars.

This book fulfilled no requirements for the challenge.

Review: Eleanor & Park

9781250012579

I was expecting to really like this book, and it is a fairly decent one. But it didn’t live up to the hype that proceeded it. It was definitely ruined for me by a random comment by someone who said they cried – no sobbed – at the end. I kept waiting for something big and crazy and heartbreaking to happen. I kind of felt like this book had Chekhov’s gun in it. A gun literally did go off midway through the book, but it had no consequence. But nothing really happens. Two kids meet, somehow become obsessed with each other by the process of just being repeatedly exposed to each other, and then her home life is abusive and crazy and dangerous so she runs. And … then they sort of move on but not really.

The focus here is on the love story between Eleanor and Park (I kept wondering if Park was his full name or if it was implied that it was a shortened version of something, since his brother is only referred to as Josh the entire time). All the other stories happening around them (which were, frankly, more interesting), are never explored. There was stuff with Park’s Korean mom, what happened between Eleanor’s mom and just about everyone, how Park’s parents met, who was behind all the sabotage in Eleanor’s gym class… And in the final few chapters, we don’t even get to know what happens to all of Eleanor’s brothers and sister. Why did her mom even end up with Richie? So many unanswered questions.

The book was fairly well-written. It was pretty repetitive, but that seemed to be a deliberate narrative choice. It was sort of like journal entries, mostly in a recent present, linear fashion, but sometimes going backwards to fill in holes in the plot. I normally don’t like blatant exposition, but I just felt like a lot of the interesting parts of the story were just left out to focus on the romance.

I think the most disappointing part for me was that things were really ramping up in the last third of the book and then it all just fizzled pretty pathetically. I was so on the edge of my seat (mostly because I was expecting someone to get killed), and then it turned out to be no big deal. Expectations definitely played a role here, so I can’t blame it all on the book. I was definitely intrigued by it, and the ending is also not super disappointing compared to other books I’ve read. There’s a flicker of hope at the end, which I think would play really well on a movie screen. Apparently, one is in the works, so I would be interested to see that. I hope they address what happens to those kids.

4 stars.

This book fulfills no requirements for the challenge.

Review: Allegiant

allegiantcover

I had heard rumblings about the ending of the third book being unsatisfying long before I decided to read the trilogy. And so, I gotta say, I am conflicted on how I feel about the ending of it. So, spoilers abound after this paragraph – be warned if you ever plan to read the books. (Although if you just plan to watch the movies, I have a feeling that the third movie will stray pretty far from this, so you will probably still be safe.)

The most noticeable thing about the third book that separates it from the previous two is that the book alternates between the viewpoints of Tris and Tobias/Four, when the first two were solely from Tris’ viewpoint. I feel like this was only necessary because Tris dies near the end when saving the world, and so in order to continue the narrative, there needs to be someone to take over and explain what happens after her death. Otherwise, it’s not that great of a literary device. I don’t learn much about Tobias from reading his first person viewpoint. The chapters are actually indistinguishable, and I frequently had to check back to see which person I was reading about. The whole issue would have been better handled using a third person omniscient narrative throughout the whole trilogy.

However, I am torn on how I feel about the death of Tris in general. First, it seems unfair to the reader to take this journey with a character, to have them die, especially when we have been with her first person viewpoint for most of the trilogy, and then just switch to the other viewpoint that was inserted in a kind of sloppy way. I love having a tough protagonist that happens to be female, but I just don’t know how I feel about her sacrificing herself at the end. I think it would have been more effecting for Caleb to jump in at the last minute and sacrifice himself. But then, it also shows that Tris is a strong person, capable of loving someone that betrayed her, of overcoming so many obstacles, and yet choosing the scary path. But then, her death is sort of an “oops”, as she is shot on her way to wipe the memories of everyone, including her attacker. Wouldn’t just a shot that caused her to black out and then awaken later be just as dramatic? Especially if Caleb had come in and stopped her from being killed.

Needless to say, I have mixed feelings on the whole thing.

There are a lot of ideas and world building going on in this installment, but it is just a lot of info dumping. We are told about so many things but very little of it is actually explored in any meaningful way. Both Tobias and Tris each take a separate trip to The Fringe (which is definitely never explained and reminded me of some Afghanistan desert by the descriptions), but I’m not sure what the purpose behind it was, other than to show that this new America is very fractured. Speaking of America, why does no one care about the rest of the world? They talk about how tiny Chicago is on the map compared to the entire Earth, but never mention what is going on in parts other than the United States. We don’t even know what kind of government oversees the Bureau. And if the Bureau oversees several experiments, why is the headquarters right outside Chicago? So many questions.

In the end, the story had a lot of good potential, but the ending was not satisfying.

This book fulfills the trilogy requirement for the challenge.

Review: Insurgent

insurgent-book-cover

As with Divergent, I read this book after I had already seen the movie. It just kind of worked out that way, since I was on the wait list for this and the third book for awhile. But unlike the first movie adaptation, the movie strays pretty far from the book in a lot of significant ways. Of course, the book came first and so the original plot is from that, but my experience in seeing them the other way definitely colors how I feel about it.

Tris’s motivations are much better explained in the book, which is probably a no brainer since it all takes place in her first person viewpoint. She can talk about her emotions and thoughts behind her actions, where in a movie that would have to be in the form of super lame voice-overs. The movie version condensed a lot of the plot by removing several minor characters and changing the entire goal of the villain, Jeanine Matthews. In a way, the movie plot makes more sense. The goals are clear and understandable, while in the book, Jeanine captures Tris and experiments on her for “reasons”.

A lot of the same events happen to the characters in both the book and the movie, however, more things happen to fewer characters in the movie, which does help in keeping track of things. It does, however, make things more complicated in terms of relationships. For example, Christina has all kinds of horrible things happen to her but is somehow still on Tris’ side by the end of the movie. In the book, less happens and it seems more understandable why she is loyal. One relationship that was very confusing was the love story between Tris and Four. It is much more believable in the movie, but that could be because of the chemistry between the actors. Reading the book, I sometimes wonder what exactly it is that they see in each other. (Also, the sex scene is so vaguely implied that I could believe it didn’t even happen.)

The best part about this book versus the movie was how much it foreshadowed and explained about why everyone is in this society and how it came to be. Obviously, most of it isn’t explained because that is for the final book in the trilogy, but it does allude to it and outright say some things. It ends on a much different note than the movie, as that one seems much more hopeful and the book has Tris imprisoned, with the factionless staging an uprising against those that have been helping them.

4 stars.

This book fulfills no requirements 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.

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: 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.