Truly, Madly, Deeply, You: currently, it has a fairly middle-of-the-range average rating (hovering just over the 3.5 star mark) here on Goodreads...so...moreTruly, Madly, Deeply, You: currently, it has a fairly middle-of-the-range average rating (hovering just over the 3.5 star mark) here on Goodreads...so you might be wondering why I'm so far on the other end of the spectrum with a one-star "Sorry, I Didn't Like It" rating.
To be honest, what initially drew me to this novella (which clocks in at just around 70-80 pages) was the cover. I haven't had much exposure to interracial romances, so I was intrigued that this novella was so upfront about the kind of romance inside. Almost immediately, I wanted to know the characters depicted on the cover and how their relationship might develop within the story.
The blurb also intrigued me because it tackles an issue that I've seen discussed quite a bit over the past few weeks on the internet: the matter of the "friendzoned guy." Freytag "Frey" Meier is one such man, who has held a special place in his heart for his best friend Liese Hansfeld ever since they were thirteen years old...but Liese has seemingly never noticed. In fact, she went on to marry another, only for her to lose her husband a few short years after they wed. Given that kind of backstory, I was a bit concerned with how a male character in the friendzone would react to such a situation. Would he take advantage of his friend's grief and try to "make her love him" by smothering her with (some ill-motivated) kindness and attention? Or would he simply be the friend who lives his own life and tries to move on himself even as he wishes that his friend could (and would) do the same for herself? I was curious to find out.
So...what happened to make me react so negatively to this story? How did all my interest and curiosity turn into disappointment and irritation?
I really don't think the story started on the right foot when Frey, "being the good friend," ignores Liese's wishes to be alone during her yearly four-day grieving period and breaks into her home. Even though the intention was that Frey was doing all this "for her own good," I felt appalled on behalf of Liese. Why? This man is supposedly her best friend (and, given the context of the story, seemingly her only friend), yet he doesn't think to talk to her about any of this prior to swooping in and saying, "Okay, you don't get an opinion on this. You are not going to be alone this year because I say so." Great that you want to help her! Great that you seem to have good intentions! But why "your way or no way," huh? As best friends, shouldn't your relationship be a bit more equal than that?
Of course...as soon as I met and knew Liese, I found myself a bit appalled by her as well. Given her grief, I can understand some lapses in care of herself and such -- but it was a bit annoying that she needs to be reminded by Frey to take care of herself and he cooks every meal for her (otherwise, she doesn't seem to eat). Not to mention the fact that, even when she's in another room (such as the bathroom) and locks the door, Frey often "checks up" on her quickly and (at one point) believes he might have to break down the door "just to make sure she's all right."
Now, here's the thing: I could understand some of Frey's overprotectiveness and paranoia if Liese were suicidal. However, even with how often she cried, I never got the deep, frightening impression that "Man, if this girl were left alone, she might really do harm to herself." I don't know if the lack of worry on my end was due to Liese's characterization or something else. For all I know, she was meant to be portrayed as a potentially suicidal woman who needed to be brought back from the brink by her best friend who loves her. Truthfully, I never felt that from Liese while I was reading, but some other reader might see it another way and be more empathetic as to why Frey seemed to have a problem with respecting Liese's space. As for me...well, I found Frey was a manipulator hidden behind the mask of a "nice guy."
Only two other characters made an appearance in this novella: Ben (Frey's romantic rival for Liese) and Carmen (Frey's ex-girlfriend). Given that neither character is fleshed out or given complexities beyond being outside "obstacles" to Frey and Liese's romance, Ben and Carmen added nothing more to the story. It was a shame, really, since sometimes supporting characters can make up for some of the slack of the main characters (if said supporting characters are fleshed out enough).
Beyond all that, however, what really made me dislike this novella was that I saw no real depth to the friendship or the potential romantic relationship between Liese and Frey. They've known each other since they were in their early teens, yet no real backstory depth is given to their friendship other than Liese sometimes musing how they've already seen each other naked when they were younger or how they sometimes slept in the same bed (both musings of which add very little weight to the reality of friendship between these two characters, in my opinion). On Frey's end, it's a bit disturbing how he coddles Liese (he even compares her to a kitten once): there's no real respect on his end for her other than trying to "protect" her from other guys. As for the romance...well, it has little to do with admirable traits they see in each other but how attractive they find each other. Never once did I read how they admired each other's internal traits and characteristics but rather the external such as beauty and sex appeal. But why does Frey love Liese so much, beyond beauty? Why does Liese start to see him romantically even though she loved and married someone else? I wanted to know these things, but I never received any of the answers.
The sad thing is that I might not have had such a dislike for this story if the characters had been teenagers instead of adults. Mind, that's not a preference of mine (it's my personal view that characters of any work should be deep and complex), but rather the characters themselves weren't convincing as adults. Their dialogue, their behavior, their emotions -- all of it seemed more suitable for teenage characters wrought with the potential excuses of hormones, romantic entanglements and drama, and emotional confusion. (I know adults experience all those things as well to varying degrees, but it's not in a book's favor when you have a 24-year-old man who treats a grown woman like a child who must be babied and protected from others and herself. Nor is it a good sign when you have a 24-year-old woman shifting among crying fits, antidepressant-fueled stupor, or sudden lust for her best friend, all the while giving no real indicator that she can care for herself without the help of said best friend.)
Plus, we are never clued in to how these characters support themselves, what their hobbies may be, what connections they bear to the outside world other than to each other...and I find that a bit disquieting in and of itself. Other romances give their characters family backgrounds and such, so why couldn't I at least see some of that here? Instead, the story has romance as the one and only core goal, and it suffers for it.
By the end of the novella, nothing is truly resolved. Liese still has her issues, and Frey will likely suffocate her with his "love" and not give her the space she needs to try and heal in her own time. No, it's not the most destructive romance in fiction out there (far from it), but I still can't accept it as a "good romance" or even a desirable one (given the unequal balance between Frey and Liese). And I don't think other readers should accept it as such either.
However, that's just my opinion. If you're at all interested in Truly, Madly, Deeply, You, then by all means spend the two dollars for the e-book and see how the story fares for you.(less)
A few weeks ago, I came across an essay written by Neil Gaiman and titled "All Books Have Genders": the beginning of the essay touches upon the truth...moreA few weeks ago, I came across an essay written by Neil Gaiman and titled "All Books Have Genders": the beginning of the essay touches upon the truth that, whether we (readers or writers) like it or not, most books can be defined as either girl books or boy books. What determines what a book's "gender" is? I'd say it's a mixture of things, particularly the main character, the mood of the story, the focus of the plot, and the narrative's voice. What does any of this have to do with the novel I'm reviewing? Well, despite having a female lead, Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig is undoubtedly a "boy book."
As far as being a "boy book," there's nothing wrong with that, but I suppose my expectations muddled my reading experience a bit. You see, Blackbirds's synopsis gives the promise of urban fantasy: Miriam Black, through touch alone, can know how the person she's touching is going to die. For Miriam, it's an instant thing, experiencing someone's death in the span of a few moments even if the dying itself may last minutes or hours from the person's eventual perspective. Given this dark gift, it's not unexpected that Miriam's become affected by its power...but sometimes she seems less a "realistically-written woman damaged by her strange ability" and more "damaged woman written with the voice of a guy." There's a difference, believe me, especially when you're reading it.
Now, Miriam's gift leads to her gaining the attention of quite a few unsavory characters: a con artist, two dangerous people claiming to be FBI agents, and a creepy hairless man who stabs someone through the eye in one of Miriam's death visions. The problem? Miriam seems to be the cause of that last death, and over the course of the novel she attempts to maneuver a way to prevent this death even though she had long ago accepted that fate is a merciless storm that won't be diverted no matter what she does.
For the first 100 pages or so, I rather liked the novel (the thought-provoking aspects of fate particularly intrigued me), but at some point the story became quite gratuitous with its moments of gore, akin to movies like the Saw series. If such movies are your thing, then you'll probably enjoy Blackbirds. As for me, I don't mind gore -- unless it's used for shock factor or a way to include narrative punch. Sadly, Blackbirds seemed to thrive on using gore in just those two ways, and thus reading the book became quite an unpleasant experience for me at times.
Given my mixed feelings on this first novel, I can't say I would follow Miriam through an entire series, but perhaps I'll see where her journey goes in the sequel, Mockingbird. As for whether you should read it or not, I'd recommend reading a few reviews and sampling the novel's first few pages before you commit to reading it in its entirety. It's definitely not one of those urban fantasy novels that will jive with everyone, but I'm certain it will find its audience who will enjoy it for what it is with few complaints.
(Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.)(less)
Imagine a world where humans are near extinction, mutant bat creatures stalk the skies like birds of prey, and centaurs rule as nobility within their...moreImagine a world where humans are near extinction, mutant bat creatures stalk the skies like birds of prey, and centaurs rule as nobility within their own mountain fortress. That sounds like such a great fictional world, doesn't it? Wouldn't you want to read about such a strange yet dangerous place?
Well, I definitely did -- but once I started reading Daughter of the Centaurs my enthusiasm quickly dimmed to lukewarm feelings and then, finally, to a sense of disillusionment and confusion.
The author, Kate Klimo, tried to capture the charm and adventure that are to be found in novels by fantasy authors such as Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, Diana Wynne Jones, Gail Carson Levine, and Shannon Hale -- but even with an original idea the novel fell flat in many areas.
One of the hard sells of the novel is that this book is not meant to be straight fantasy...but rather dystopian in the sense that this world ruled by centaurs and other creatures is meant to take place really, really far into the future (yes, OUR world's future). While that's an interesting idea in and of itself, my curious mind wants to know how. Klimo never explains the origins of her world and how these sentient creatures came to be. Are they the result of evolution? Genetic abnormalities? Magic gone wild? The questions always loomed in the back of my mind as I was reading, yet never once did I get an answer, satisfactory or not.
Another sticking point to me was that the centaurs...well, to put it bluntly, they were lame. Though I could understand more civilized centaurs (as opposed to my more traditional view of tribal, warrior-like creatures), I still expected them to be majestic in some ways. Instead, they are shallow and irksome beings who are served by cat-like servants called Twani (who actually reminded me of the house-elves from Harry Potter), and there is little depth to be found in the centaur characters (many of whom are nobles). Then, when we actually do meet a more traditional (and, might I add, much more likable) centaur, the novel is almost three-fourths done! Injustice, I say!
The society of the centaurs was...frivolous at best and cartoonish at worst. Though I was expecting some intrigues possibly a la Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief series, there was none of that to be found here. Instead, we are treated to some vague signs of tension between the Highlanders (the noble centaurs) and the Flatlanders (the common centaurs), but it never builds to anything especially exciting or noteworthy.
The one semi-good point of the novel was the heroine, Malora, who reminded me of a mixture of Katniss from Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games and Daine from Tamora Pierce's The Immortals quartet -- but some of the likenesses to those heroines were often only skin-deep, making Malora seem more a caricature of the "wilderness girl" and less of a real character.
The writing itself had its good and bad moments. Pacing and exposition were not always consistent; those flaws make the story a bit of a rocky reading experience instead of a smooth one. Sometimes the novel also had an identity crisis in that it never quite seemed certain whether it was meant to be aimed towards middle-grade readers or young adults, and that could prove to be a problem for this novel to reach the audience that may be most receptive to it.
Though having the benefits of a fresh idea and an intriguing set-up, Daughter of the Centaurs honestly was a disappointment to me, but other readers may feel differently and find charm where I found annoyance. If you're interested, then by all means give it a try. Perhaps it will be a fresh yet nostalgic kind of fantasy story for your reading pleasure.
Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley.(less)
There has been much buzz surrounding Marissa Meyer's debut novel, Cinder, over the months leading up to its publication. How...more(Actual Rating: 3.5 stars)
There has been much buzz surrounding Marissa Meyer's debut novel, Cinder, over the months leading up to its publication. How could there not be? The main hook is Cinderella as a cyborg. Even without reading the synopsis, many people would likely snap to attention at the mention of such an idea, and I was no exception to to the allure of what this book might entail.
In the end, my curiosity felt only half-rewarded. Cinder was an enjoyable read with good (and some really unique) ideas, but oftentimes the execution wasn't as powerful as it could have been. Amusement and annoyance alike colored my reading experience. I regret to say that, for me, the story was not the unforgettable book I had been hoping to read.
In a world over 100 years past its fourth world war, Linh Cinder is a mechanic living in New Beijing within the Eastern Commonwealth. However, given her cyborg status, she lives under the thumb of her stepmother, who reaps the benefits from Cinder's work. Even as Cinder dreams of getting away from the life she lives and fleeing to somewhere better, her country is in a state of turmoil: a plague rips its way through the population, the emperor lies on his death bed, and the Lunar Empire threatens war. All of this is beyond Cinder's paltry life, yet she may play a bigger part in all of this than she ever imagined...
As intriguing as all of its ideas are, Cinder often felt bogged down by its fairy tale roots, keeping it from gaining the wings that could have made it soar as a story right from the start. The first half of the novel is an introductory phase, groundwork being laid for not only this book but also the sequels to come. While in and of itself that seems like a good way to handle a multi-book story, the execution failed to draw me in and engross me as much as I had wanted. Only past the halfway point (over 200 pages into the story) did I begin to care for the characters and the world around them. This kind of slow-building storytelling usually works for me, but I can't say it bore full-effect with Cinder.
Then, thankfully, the second half of the novel kicked in, and suddenly things seemed...desperate. Dire. Maybe even deadly. And my enjoyment rose to much greater heights. By the time I reached the end, I did want the sequel, and I felt invested in Cinder as a character. I admired what Meyer had done with the climax and denouement, not seeking to tie up the end or give a quick (and unsatisfactory) happily-ever-after. Cinder's story didn't stay in the cookie-cutter mold; it broke free of it. Cyborg Cinderella, true to her promise, has much more in store for her than marriage to a prince. Her journey is only just beginning.
Speaking of Cinder herself, I admit that sometimes I was exasperated with her. How could I not be, when she's either forgetting to do something important (to the point that she seems an accessory to keep the plot "mysterious" for as long as possible) or mulling over her cyborg identity even though she always claims her humanity when in a face-off with her stepmother? She's not a bad heroine by any means (far from it, actually), but I wish she had been more consistent. She could have been only a more powerful heroine because of it.
For all its promise and hype, Cinder didn't work for me as I had hoped...but the strong final act convinced me that the sequels will be worth reading, if only to see how this saga (with all its threads) will end. Other readers will likely be much more receptive to the story as a whole, overlooking the flaws and enjoying the book for what it is: the first of a slowly unfolding saga that, layer by layer, may prove to be greater than the sum of its parts. I look forward to seeing if that will be the case when all is said and done.
Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.(less)
Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, The Night Circus, is a book bound to divide book lovers into the "loved it" and "hated it" categories. Some people will adore the prose; others will despise it for being flowery and excessive. Some readers will hate the false promises the blurb on the jacket copy offers; others will still find something magical to love and admire in this novel despite the deception within the blurb. As for me, I was divided in my opinions. I mean, I really, really wanted that story the blurb promised about a "fierce competition" and "a deep, passionate, and magical love." I still want someone to write it since, sadly, Morgenstern didn't give it to me.
What Morgenstern did give me, however, was a lovely novel about the passage of time surrounding a circus concocted by magical means. The circus here is not just a location: it too is a character, one that is more vibrant than many of the other characters within this story. Morgenstern succeeds at making the magic wondrous and enchanting, although those looking for the rules to the enchantments will come away disappointed. There is no rhyme or reason to the magic here: it simply is, and that is as much a strength as it is a deficit.
The novel has no consistent timeline or narrative either, given that the chapters alternate among the past and present, standalone moments from the circus itself, and character viewpoints of varying importance. Although The Night Circus contains literary merit, it doesn't have quite enough spark to achieve everything all its build-up promised.
Le Cirque des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams) has an uncommon inception within London in 1873: two gentlemen, one who calls himself Prospero and the other who dons a grey suit and is known as Alexander, make a wager that two pupils of theirs will undergo a magical competition. Prospero's choice is his daughter, Celia, whom he has only been aware of for the past six months. Alexander, however, does not make his choice until the following January: an orphaned boy whose name Alexander does not care to know. These two children become bound together by a magical pact, but they remain unaware of each other for many years. Only once the magical circus, the chosen venue for the competition, is in its planning stages does the real game begin...
"Competition" doesn't quite fit what transpires within the circus because of the magic of Celia and Marco (the orphaned boy). There are no showdowns, no competitive scenes, no dangerous moments. Instead, the novel showcases how Celia and Marco try to one-up each other with how enchanting their various contributions to the circus can be. These enchantments, however, devolve into almost a flirtation between the two as they silently create new tents and exhibits for the sole purpose of impressing one another. It's a nice idea, but it would have born more weight if both sides had been aware of each other's identities sooner in the novel. Somehow, we're meant to believe that, with so much secrecy abounding, these two can honestly, truly fall in love. And that is one of the greatest flaws within The Night Circus: the love story is not deep, passionate, dangerous, or even really sensical, and it makes the story weaker than it otherwise might have been.
The first meaningful conversation between Celia and Marco occurs halfway through the book. Then, Morgenstern does the unthinkable: the next chapter is set three years later, and suddenly Marco is proclaiming, "I'm in love with her." Really? Really? There needed to be some transition between the two chapters, something to bridge the gap to show that something was growing in the hearts of these two individuals now that they were both aware of one another. Instead, the love between the two is shoddy and gimmicky, the stuff of an hour-and-a-half movie rather than a nearly 400-page novel with a literary bent.
Now, you must be wondering: "Jillian, if you had such a problem with the love story, why give the novel three-and-a-half stars?" Because the novel isn't just the love story. There was plenty more for me to like in this novel: the segments about the circus's various attractions, a plot line following a boy named Bailey who's in love with the circus, and the inclusion of rêveurs (dreamers) who follow the circus around the world. Basically, the circus is the main character...and, given what I read about it, I knew that if such a place existed I would probably be in love with it too. So I couldn't dislike the novel simply because the story introduced me to such an intriguing, enchanting place.
All my qualms and opinions aside, The Night Circus is a charming story, but it won't be for everyone simply because it's not as universal as it could have been. It may be a literary smash-hit for a time, but will it be a classic read in the decades to come? I doubt it. However, if Erin Morgenstern can hone her craft a bit more, then maybe someday she really will become a household name. For now, though, The Night Circus is the debut novel that will either enchant or alienate readers. Whether you will be one or the other, that all depends on how you fare with the circus and its offerings if you give this novel a go.(less)
The capaill uisce plunged down the sand, skirmishing and bucking, shaking the sea form out of their manes and the Atlantic from their hooves. They scr...moreThe capaill uisce plunged down the sand, skirmishing and bucking, shaking the sea form out of their manes and the Atlantic from their hooves. They screamed back to the others still in the water, high wails that raised the hair on my arms. They were swift and deadly, savage and beautiful. The horses were giants, at once the ocean and the island, and that was when I loved them.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater is a difficult novel to describe: it is one-part race novel, one-part horse appreciation tale, and one-part coming-of-age journey with dashes of horror and magic and just a tiny pinch of romance. It has all the materials to be a great and unforgettable tale...but somehow the pieces never come together quite exactly as it feels they should.
Every November, the small island of Thisby becomes a tourist trap as curious people travel to see a daring spectacle: the Scorpio Races, an event in which people ride upon capaill uisce, deadly water horses with bloodthirsty habits and madness when faced with the place of their origins, the ocean. No one is ever guaranteed to walk away from the race alive; death has become an all too common occurrence among these island folk.
It's such an intriguing, exciting concept...but honestly the horrific outcomes involving the water horses are only a small part of this novel. The true core of the story is much more simple and common yet nonetheless powerful: ties to family, home, animals, and dreams are the real driving forces of what make this story less of a letdown and more of a win. Though the story has flaws and pacing issues, it does have a lot of charm with its focus on the ties that bind.
However, that same slice-of-life focus is also one of the novel's most noticeable flaws: the story and leave long stretches of time with just build-up and development. Some readers may come away feeling a bit cheated because the title does not quite live up to its promise with the word "races". Instead of offering a war cry when it came to the main event, The Scorpio Races gives whispers and mutters. For me, the meaningful end to the tale more than made up for its beginning blunders and missteps, but I know that others may not end up feeling the same.
Overall, I found The Scorpio Races to be a novel that rather subverted its own promise. I came into the story expecting a tale of horror and gore; instead, I received a thought-provoking look into the life of a small island bound to tradition and magic. In the end, I was happy with the exchange. I can only hope that other readers will have a similar reading experience.(less)
In a perfect world, Julie Kagawa's The Immortal Rules and I would have been best friends. Look what the story has to offer: A vampire-ruled post-apoca...moreIn a perfect world, Julie Kagawa's The Immortal Rules and I would have been best friends. Look what the story has to offer: A vampire-ruled post-apocalyptic world! The return of vampires who are blood-drinking monsters and not brooding lovers! A heroine who wields a katana and kills zombie-like vampires with it!
What could go wrong with any of this, you ask? Sadly, a lot could -- and did, at least for me.
In the vampire city of New Covington, Allison "Allie" Sekemoto (yes, she's of Asian descent -- and, no, the cover does not reflect this in the least) lives life on the fringe of society. She's an Unregistered, someone who isn't listed in the system and who doesn't need to have monthly blood draws -- but there's a downside: being Unregistered also means that you're on your own as far as food goes. Therefore, Allie does what she can to survive, even though doing so means joining a gang and eating whatever she can find (even if that means moldy or maggot-infested food). What follows is a story of survival turned on its head as Allie ends up becoming what she hates the most yet still strives to survive against vampire and human alike...
When I started The Immortal Rules, I really expected a story that would amaze me with its world-building, its characterization, and the "Us Vs. Them" mentality (of humans and vampires coexisting in a society). Sadly, none of it really left an impression on me.
One of the most disappointing things about Kagawa's novel is that, rather than be a new entity unto itself, it seems a patchwork creation of plot elements that have been explored in other vampire-centric stories. You have a girl who fights the monster inside herself even as she strikes down bloodthirsty creatures to protect the people she cares about. That story was explored in the 2005 anime Blood+. You have a seemingly incurable strain of virus that destroyed nearly the entire human race and turned many into creatures bent on devouring the humans who have survived; even though all seems hopeless, some humans still search for a cure even if it means sacrifices along the way. The 2007 film I Am Legend (based on the novel of the same name) already followed such a post-apocalyptic scenario -- and in a two-hour film, not almost 500 pages! I can understand some similarities: after all, vampires have become a product of pop culture, over the past 30 years especially, so it stands to reason that someone writing a vampire novel would (unconsciously or not) draw inspiration from other works already out there. But here's the thing: the work needs to stand enough new ground on its own that it can be seen as something not entirely derivative of components seen in other works within the genre. In my opinion, The Immortal Rules is more derivative than innovative, so my reading experience wasn't as enjoyable as I had hoped it would be.
I can't say I felt the nearly 500-page length was justified either. As I read through the novel, I couldn't help but note long stretches where nothing of importance happens. The first part ("Human") kept me fairly intrigued, but I felt my interest wane with each successive chapter. Though Kagawa had a good handle on keeping the mundane passage of time (such as days or weeks) to a few paragraphs, the overall feel of the novel to me was one of monotony, even despite some action scenes that should have helped to keep me riveted. Nothing surprised me in this novel even though I so wanted to be on the edge of my seat, glued to the story and desperate to find out what happened next.
Aside from all of that, what really annoyed me about this novel is that it suffers from something I'm going to call the "Strong Girl Spotlight," where the heroine is the only "girl of worth" in the novel. In a world of mainstream fiction and media dominated by male main characters, why would such a thing (a strong female main character) bug me? Well, I believe that a story shouldn't get props just for having a strong female character as a lead. I mean, what does it say about the story if (a) the only "important" girl in the plot is the heroine, (b) all the other girls in the story are much "weaker" (physically, mentally, emotionally, what have you) by comparison to the heroine, and (c) the only other notable female character is mostly defined by her hatred for and jealousy of the main character? Thus, I can't say this story won any feminist badges from me. Believe me, I wanted to love Allie as a character, as a strong heroine surviving as best she could in a crummy world -- but I felt maneuvered to like her, especially with the lack of any other likable or notable female characters.
With all that being said, I think that people who enjoy vampire novels, post-apocalyptic novels, or both will likely come away liking The Immortal Rules, even despite its flaws and the similarities to other post-apocalyptic tales. This is just one of those cases where I'd say, "Try it from the library first if you want to read it." As for whether I'll continue on and read the next book in the series...well, I guess I have a year to decide.
(Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.)(less)
Let it be known that I thought I would really like this book. I was excited when I downloaded it. I rushed to start it and hoped that it would be a gr...moreLet it be known that I thought I would really like this book. I was excited when I downloaded it. I rushed to start it and hoped that it would be a great read from an indie author. I was expecting to be wowed and engrossed. . .but, well, my reading experience was far different than I had expected.
Sometimes it's hard to form my thoughts about a book into words for a review. My thoughts and feelings can be all over the place with certain books. Such is the case with Hush Money -- a book about Talented kids who find themselves in a bit of a cat-and-mouse predicament when they begin being black-mailed because of their powers. Sounds interesting, right? Well, I'm sad to say that the book didn't possess that much potential -- and what little it did have, it squandered quite quickly.
Books with super powers and magical abilities can be hit or miss. Ones I liked include Gone and White Cat. However, this book reminded me of one I could take or leave -- The Candidates. The problem with super power books is that it's really hard not to fall back on comic book standards, a la X-Men, Spider-man, The Hulk, etc. If you're going to write a book about teenagers living in a world where it's a danger to have these abilities, you need to make us feel the danger. What was missing in Hush Money was this: I was told about the danger but not properly shown it. You expect me to feel fear for these characters? Then show me what's so horrible about the Talent Schools and the goverment watchmen. Give us an example beyond simple allusions. Also, please give concrete foundation to the Talents themselves. It was all very foggy and murky as to who could do what at some points, and that shouldn't be an issue in a book like this.
Actually, the show, don't tell advice for writers seemed to be mostly ignored here. Whether it be through lengthy paragraphs or info-dump dialogue, I was told everything. Writers, no, you can't do that! Please show us things! Describe emotions, actions, and simple reactions to us so that we can try to figure things out for ourselves! Imagination can work wonders without you having to tell us everything! Basically -- because of that tendency in this book, I really felt no suspense about the plot. I was just the spectator, not the one living inside the main characters' skins as punches were dealt and blows were received. It was all very underwhelming.
Another thing that underwhelmed me was the cast of characters. I didn't fully get the reason for the flip-flop POVs between the heroine Joss and the boy she likes, Dylan. Sure, it was nice to get both their sides of the story, but the way it was done was very haphazard and inconsistent. The whole characterization seemed very inconsistent to me. Why are all these characters so hesitant and secretive one moment and then all power-happy the next? Don't give me that crap that it's because of some hokey Talent bond/kinship! If these characters are truly so afraid and wary of the Talent schools, then they would be like Joss: watch everything happen and don't do anything about it. (I also didn't like that these characters weren't described physically to me beyond a few mentions here and there. With so many characters, physical descriptions and attributes are necessary in some scenes!)
(I could also go into the pseudo-romance -- but it would just annoy me more since it had potential if it had been given more DEPTH.)
The 'villain' (read: power- and money-hungry bully) was laughable to me. Why couldn't these Talented teens have ganged up on him and have been rid of him once and for all? It shouldn't have been such an issue.
The ending also annoyed me. (Writers, don't end a book with THE END! Just DON'T!) It was very abrupt, and it made my cranky reading experience end on an even worse note than I had expected. The story as a whole just seemed to be a prequel to something deeper and darker (I hope), so maybe I will read the sequel if I can get it for 99 cents through Amazon again. If not, well. . .I don't know if I'll be reading the sequel.
All in all -- I can't help looking at this as anything but a fluff read. Read it. Don't read it. That's up to you and what you can take as a reader. If anything, it is a cheap read (99 cents for the Kindle version). I hope others enjoy it more than I did. (less)
The honest truth: coming into reading The Golden Lily, I remembered next to nothing of what had transpired in the first book...more(Actual Rating: 3.5 stars)
The honest truth: coming into reading The Golden Lily, I remembered next to nothing of what had transpired in the first book, Bloodlines. I had some vague recollections of things Adrian had said (because, come on, who can forget what Adrian says?), the climax, and the scene where Adrian remarked about Sydney's eyes being like "molten gold." At first, I thought, "Oh, it's just you; the first book couldn't have been that unmemorable" -- but, after reading The Golden Lily, I'm not so certain.
On the one hand, I understand: in terms of plot arcs, Bloodlines is proving to be a tamer beast than Vampire Academy. Though both series have their instances of romantic drama and tension, the Bloodlines series really does have a more flippant air, what with the setting (California) and focus on "lighter" affairs (high school, dating, modeling, etc.). Though I could excuse such things in Bloodlines as a "start-up book" to the series, I honestly expected more plot tension, danger, and immediacy in The Golden Lily. To my dismay, I didn't feel that I received any of those things.
I once read somewhere that, if a writer doesn't enjoy what he/she is writing, then the reader will fail to enjoy it as well -- and I think that's part of the problem with The Golden Lily. There are sparks of life and enjoyment in certain scenes (such as interactions between Sydney and Adrian), yet then that verve dissipates into a dullness over the course of much of the book. If I were a betting woman, I would place my money on the belief that Mead really didn't enjoy writing most of this novel. It's a wonder she didn't somehow have all the characters thrown out of their Californian setting and shipped off back to Court, to the heart of the intrigues and danger involved with Moroi politics and Strigoi attacks, because -- honestly -- the new setting and "focus" really don't seem to be serving the story (or characters) as well as they should.
As much as I loved the growth of companionship between Sydney and Adrian within this installment, I will be the first to admit that relationship-building and romantic tension alone do not a good book make. They help, of course (especially if you latch onto good characters and their relationships as I do), but there needs to be a strong plot supporting them. Not all of the Sydney-Adrian scenes in this book were directly related back to the plot or its roots; rather, many of the scenes occurred for the simple function of building a bond between the two. That's not reprehensible, no, but it's disappointing, especially given that a few of the Vampire Academy novels really managed to strike a balance with characterization, relationship-building, and plot. With all that being said, I still enjoyed the Sydney-Adrian moments scattered across the book, but I wish that their presence hadn't been at the expense of suspense, mystery, and danger within the plot.
Sadly, another weakness of The Golden Lily is that Sydney proves to be a detached narrator, even more so than I noticed in Bloodlines. As much as I like her as a character (really, she's been a favorite of mine since she first appeared in Blood Promise), her narrative in this installment lacked vibrance, and -- perhaps most detrimental of all -- she really didn't seem to have much of an interest in the people around her. Even despite some considerable character growth for Sydney between Bloodlines and this installment, the only interactions where she really seems to come to life are with Adrian, and even those could be explained away by the fact that the two are the most obvious "couple-to-be" in the series. Everyone else seems throwaway and inconsequential -- a stark contrast to how side-characters were treated in the earlier installments of Vampire Academy. We never get a sense that these characters are continuing to move, breathe, and interact when they're "off-stage" (i.e. not within Sydney's sight and thought process). Rather, it sometimes feels that the characters are mechanism-driven puppets that cease functioning if they aren't related to Sydney or the plot at hand -- and that's a shame since Jill, Eddie, Angeline, and Trey really should be more than just tools or props within the story.
Another minor issue is that I'm a bit disappointed that this series is branching off into common paranormal intrigues with vampire hunters and witches added into the mix. Even though innovation can be injected into such groups by way of an author's execution, the way Mead tackles them feels tired. If only the vampire hunters and the witches seemed as intriguing to me as the Moroi and the dhampirs did when I first started reading Vampire Academy years ago.
As disjointed as my thoughts on this novel seem, I guess they can be all chalked down to this: I'm disillusioned by the Bloodlines series thus far. I want to love these books even as I devour them, but they're rather like not having a full meal: after the fact, I feel hungry for something I didn't receive. No doubt The Golden Lily left me with some moments where I smiled or laughed, but overall my experience was ultimately unsatisfying. Hopefully, the third book, The Indigo Spell, will bring back some more of the storytelling I remember and miss from the Vampire Academy days.(less)
(1) Include two boys in a possible love triangle with the heroine. Even if your novel lacks in substance, you can...moreVampire Novel Writing 101:< /b>
(1) Include two boys in a possible love triangle with the heroine. Even if your novel lacks in substance, you can give your reader the illusion of deep emotion by giving empty lust and sexual tension in the story from time to time. Make girls feel that they too can have their cake and eat it too by leading along two boys. Never mind that it's rare in real life for any girl, no matter how great or TOTALLY AWESOME, to have two boys compete for her affections beyond just vain attempts to outdo each other. Also, try to keep your love triangle unresolved in the first book: it may come in handy later to add more drama and tension if you find yourself plotless in the sequel(s) to come. (Example: House of Night)
(2) Make your heroine a goddess among women -- but be subtle about it. Your heroine needs to stand out. She can't be plain or average in any way: if she must be anything ordinary (though that is too dull and just too realistic!), make her quirky in some way. Give her a bad fashion sense. Make her a bit OCD. Make her a loner who's somehow popular without even trying. But make her alluring too -- especially to the male characters. Even if she thinks she's a total plain Jane, she's effortlessly pretty and looks good without even trying. She could wear a sack and still strike a good image. But that's what you want: relatability and realism don't matter! It's the TOTALLY AWESOME story and heroine that matter! (Examples: Twilight, House of Night, any number of paranormal YA books)
(3) Don't let your vamps be the stuff of horror stories. That's so 19th century. Vampires aren't supposed to leave you wanting to run screaming or to look behind you when you walk alone at night! Vampires are seduction incarnate. Who cares if they look horrendous at times? Who cares if they're a sickening shade of milk white? Who even cares that they drink blood? Those fangs -- and swoon-worthy eyes -- mean everything! There's soul behind those pit-like black eyes, and your heroine's going to find it. . .or her name's not Mary Sue! (Example: The Vampire Diaries)
(4) Love is a many splendid thing -- but not in this novel! Keep it short and sweet: boy meets girl, girl fantasizes about boy, boy wars with overwhelming attraction to girl, girl pseudo-stalks boy, boy and girl snog as if there's no tomorrow even though they've known each other for only a few hours/days. Girls don't want to read about real love -- the kind that takes time, anywhere from months to years, to build and strengthen. No, that won't work, so load up on the LUST! Hollywood's doing it, so why not books too? If that doesn't suit you, then just slap a FATE or SOUL MATE sticker on the couple, and you're good to go! Who's going to know the difference, really? (Example: 80-90% of the paranormal YA market at the moment)
(5) Blood drinking is sexy -- to both human and vampire. It hurts like hell for an animal to bite you, but we're not talking animals! We're talking VAMPIRES! Fang usage will just be another allegory for foreplay, but you didn't hear it here, folks! It'll be our little secret! (Example: At least 80% of vampire YA novels at the moment)
Now, lest I let you think I wrote ALL THAT to describe why Thirst irritated me, I will soothe you by saying this: Thirst doesn't fall back upon all the vampire cliches I listed above (though it does rely on its fair share). It tries to stand on its own, but its legs are unsteady Bambi legs that end up falling flat at all the wrong times. Basically, for me, Thirst managed to remind me of all the reasons why I hate vampire novels now. Most of them are just the same formula, jumbled up and spewed onto the pages in different arrangements and shapes.
For instance, I was annoyed with Ava as a heroine. She's the ONLY hybrid human-vampire, making her extra special and sought after. She's a recluse who, even after living apart from a normal life for many years, somehow manages to speak easily to strangers and enemies alike. She has a lot of trauma in her past that somehow doesn't manage to seep out in her everyday interactions. Basically, the girl is a freaking robot, a Stepford wife vampire with only some 'flaw' applications thrown into the mix. (The numbers OCD thing? How and why did that fit in to what we knew about Ava's character?)
The boys, Carl and Peter, weren't much better. Carl was a mindless bump on a log for much of the novel. (Read: He made Heath from House of Night seem like Einstein.) Then Peter is Mr. Hot and Cold, a hunter whose past is murky and left untouched. Very dissatisfying, to say the least.
The actual plot (two covens warring over control of Ava) didn't really keep me very interested. The only resolution, by the end, is basically an ending screaming TUNE INTO THE NEXT INSTALLMENT. I only finished the novel because it was short, and I highly doubt I'll be reading any sequel from it.
Basically, it was 99 cents down the drain, and I'm really sorry I didn't find another indie gem. Please take your hard-earned 99 cents and go read Camille instead.(less)
Ixion: a place of eternal night and eternal pleasure -- but nothing, nothing, comes without its price. . .
Admittedly, Burn Bright was one of my most a...moreIxion: a place of eternal night and eternal pleasure -- but nothing, nothing, comes without its price. . .
Admittedly, Burn Bright was one of my most anticipated releases of 2011. First, there's the darkly beautiful cover that brings to mind the fashion of Lady Gaga and the gothic wonder of Tim Burton's movies; right from the first time I saw it, it ensnared me in such a way that for months I thought, "I must have this book, I must have this book." Then there's the synopsis, speaking of a dark place called Ixion and a heroine who plunges into this night world to find her brother even though she has no desire to cavort and party as other Ixion migrants do. Burn Bright is of those ideas that just lit fire to my imagination and made me wonder what this story would entail and what dark delights would lay within its pages.
Thus, you can imagine that I came into reading this book with high expectations. Perhaps it was wrong of me, but I really expected this book to be a dark and heady mixture that made me think of the works of Laini Taylor or Melissa Marr. Instead, I received something that was bittersweet in texture and feel. . .and I honestly don't know if I liked it.
Burn Bright is a book that thrives on being different. It is very much a dark supernatural fantasy, and there is nothing quite like it in the young adult book market at the moment. Since it's fresh in that respect, I can see why other readers would be enamored with it. When you're faced with something so different from the norm, you're going to either embrace it or run away from it. Me? I was caught in the middle.
Where the story really succeeds is the world-building -- which, again, is so different from anything else that it's really rather fascinating and intriguing as you learn about Ixion right alongside its heroine, Retra. Ixion is a place where teenagers flee to lose themselves in wild parties and no-holds barred behavior, but there are people who act as guardians in Ixion: the Ripers, a group of overseers headed by the dark and secretive Lenoir. Why must the 'baby bats' -- the newcomers to Ixion -- stick to the lighted paths? And what happens to those who grow too old for Ixion?
Honestly, Ixion is a fantastically realized world, holding the madness of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland and the strangeness of J.M. Barrie's Neverland. However, a world on its own is not enough to carry a book: there also needs to be a balance with characterization and plot too. In Burn Bright, I couldn't help the feeling that the world of Ixion itself was so rich that the characters seemed flat and colorless by comparison. To me, the characters here felt like puppets moving against a backdrop that didn't help to ground or solidify them but rather outshine them -- when, really, it should be the other way around. The characters are what move the story forward, and they need to feel like live players instead of figures at the mercy of unseen twists and turns. Yes, the world building offers so many fantastic ideas and concepts -- but, meshed with the characters and plot, the story didn't seem so stellar of a package as it could have been.
The plot itself is mostly a mixture of uncovering the secrets of Ixion and seeing a battle for dominion over Ixion begin to stir -- and Retra finds herself caught up in all of it and forced to change because of her involvings in Ixion. In and of itself, the story didn't really offer me much that I hadn't expected. You have the heroine who becomes a key player in a world to which she is still only a newcomer. You have her love interests, neither of whom seem really good for her in the long run. You have her friends, most of whom have brighter personalities than she does but who take a backseat as mere tagalongs for much of the story. Needless to say, I wasn't very much impressed as far as the characters and plot go.
While others will love Burn Bright for its ingenuity and freshness, I'm sad to say that it just wasn't enough for me. However much I liked the world building, it wasn't the book I had expected to read. Whether it will be a hit or miss with you. . .well, you have to read it to find out. I hope it will burn bright in your eyes as I wish it had done for me. (less)
Red Riding Hood, a tie-in novel to the 2011 movie of the same name, tries to be many things: a love story, a fairy tale, a mystery, and a thriller. Th...moreRed Riding Hood, a tie-in novel to the 2011 movie of the same name, tries to be many things: a love story, a fairy tale, a mystery, and a thriller. The trailer for the movie is beautiful and seductive -- but does the book hold that same allure? Frankly, I can't say it did. The movie trailer held the promises of danger, secrets, and seduction. . .but the novel held none of that for me.
Quite honestly, this book made me see red.
I usually give novels about one hundred pages to grab me before I set them to the side and promptly forget about them. After the 100-page mark with this book, I was ready to give it up, but I was just so frustrated by it that I was stubbornly set to finish it and give it a slamming review. There's nothing really outstandingly likable or even tolerable about this story: the heroine is fickle and unreliable; the love interests are so flat and two-dimensional that you're supposed to take the 'love factor' at face value alone; the other characters waft among being cowardly, secretive, or just downright reprehensible; and the big bad Wolf mystery is so back and forth that, by the end, you just don't care who the Wolf is since you want the damn book to be over already! Not to mention the fact that the story is like the bastard child of The Village and Twilight with some splashes of the original Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale thrown in as allusions. It all just made me so dang annoyed.
As far as the writing itself goes -- everything about this book was inconsistent. Whether it be characterization, prose, writing style, or simple plot, none of it was at the same level throughout the entire novel. Sometimes I really liked the writing for its fairy tale-esque simplicity. Other times I hated it for its simple 'he said/she did/it ran'-type sentences, its choppy narrative style, its fickle characters, and its nonsensical attempt at being a horror story and a love story wrapped into one. Granted, I realize that this book was first a script and then fleshed out into a novel -- but, honestly, that isn't an excuse. If a script is a story laid to its barest bones to clock in under a time limit, then a novel has endless ground to expand upon said story. The expansion here, however, was really quite underwhelming: too much tell and not enough show, too much lax hold with the pseudo-limited omniscient style, too many scenes that seemed ripped out of a script with only filler bits sprinkled around them. At best, it was a story with too little real emotion. At worst, it was an overlong read with next to no substance.
(I also really hated the heroine, Valerie. She may go up there on my list of most-hated book heroines along with Zoey, Luce, Nora, Ever, Bianca, and Mary. She was the most inconsistent character of the bunch. If she's such a doesn't-want-to-fall-in-love tomboy, then why does she fall for old blast-from-the-past friend Peter with no words exchanged and only a few heated glances? PLEASE. Even Edward and Bella talked a bit before they admitted they were in love with each other. There was no build-up to the romance. It was all just -- SMACK! Romantic tension! Jealousy! Heated kiss! "I'm not good for you!" "But I love you!" Eventual make-out session ensues. Yawn, yawn, yawn.)
Basically, this book is one that didn't make me care at all. It seemed more like a cheap marketing ploy than anything else, produced to give more buzz for the movie among the young adult set of paranormal romance fans. (I think this book would appeal to people who liked The Forest of Hands and Teeth, actually -- yet another young adult novel that seemed largely inspired by the movie The Village.) I can almost guarantee than any fan of the Twilight movies will flock to see the movie and then possibly read the book afterward (or vice-versa). There was no passion, no heart, no true goal in mind for the story. What was I supposed to have learned? That love lies? That scared group mentality will override morality any day? That villages in books and movies are doomed to be the center of dystopian and horror stories for centuries to come? Please, I already know that all from the LAST book I read like this one. I was not impressed, and I doubt others will be either. Then the ending is so shoddy and ambiguous that you will hate the book for it even if you liked the story before that point!
My verdict? Skip the book. If you're interested in the story, go see the movie. You'll waste a whole heck of a lot less time than I did for reading the actual novel. (less)
With some trepidation do I start this review of Supernaturally, sequel to 2010's Paranormalcy. Now, I liked Paranormalcy well enough because of its he...moreWith some trepidation do I start this review of Supernaturally, sequel to 2010's Paranormalcy. Now, I liked Paranormalcy well enough because of its heroine, Evie, and the story's tendency to poke fun at the paranormal craze. Whatever flaws the story had, the novel had charm in a world of YA books gone shallow and insipid, unrelatable and inane, and I was hopeful to read the next installment even if I thought that Evie's story could have stayed open-ended with readers imagining what her future might hold after she has gained some semblance of normalcy. In truth...I think it might have been better to leave the story open-ended since Supernaturally doesn't have quite the same amount of charm that its predecessor had.
Supernaturally suffers from the "sequel slump," a common occurrence among many, many trilogies to be found in the young adult section. Most YA novels that expand into trilogies quite honestly could have stayed standalone novels, but nowadays the bigger publishers bank on trilogies instead of standalone novels. And that's fine. However, when you have a debut author who has likely only written a handful of novel drafts (if that) prior to a publishing deal, you have to take into consideration whether or not the author has the experience to undertake a trilogy. Will the author be able to handle an overarching plot that hangs as an umbrella over all three novels and then the individual novel plot problems and predicaments? Will the author potentially be able to make the novels tied up plot-wise on their own so that any reader can feel satisfied by finishing one novel without needing to read the rest? (Yes, that can be a pro and a con, but then you have the other end of the spectrum: cliffhangers that leave frayed threads of plot just hanging where you NEED the next book even if only to satisfy your curiosity. Now, which would readers rather have: books that can stand on their own or ones that thrive off cliffhanger central? I would guess the former before the latter.)
Kiersten White falls somewhere in the middle: though her novels have their own individual plots and then hints of an overarching plot across all three books, they aren't the kind of novels that leave off on cliffhangers (think The Hunger Games) that leave you wanting more, nor are they completely individual on their own (though, to be fair, YA novels that are a part of trilogies/series rarely are this sort). So what is Supernaturally? It's a novel caught in that place where no novel wants to be: too reliant on its predecessor to be a companion or standalone novel yet not fulfilling enough as a sequel to the original.
Supernaturally begins with Evie where she has always dreamed of being: living the normal life of a teenage girl. Sure, her boyfriend Lend may be away at college, and she may still have more questions than answers about her supernatural heritage...but life is good. Of course, this is Evie, so things are never quite so normal as she may think. After a series of strange occurrences, Evie finds herself working for IPCA again, but her jobs aren't solo anymore: this time, she's working with a trickster-like boy named Jack, a human who has the power to walk the Faerie Paths.
While Supernaturally did offer some smiles and just good-natured fun to me, it really didn't have oomph. One problem is that it was too easy for me to put the book down; when I'm reading a book, I should always feel the need to know more, more, more and keep flipping those pages. Time should be a void while I read -- to the point that when I look up from the book I'm shocked to find that hours have passed since I started reading. With Supernaturally, there was no pull for me. I slogged through the book over the course of a few weeks, and everything -- Evie, Lend, even the paranormal world around them -- didn't seem to have the same charm that I remembered it having in Paranormalcy. The need for conflict and plot motion gave way to stupid character decisions and unnecessary angst, and all of it left me feeling rather lukewarm.
However much Supernaturally was a mixed reading experience for me, I will be reading the final book, Endlessly, because I have hope that Kiersten White will manage to wow me with the finale. Though I can't wholeheartedly recommend Supernaturally on its own, I do think Paranormalcy is worth reading. I may not have been a fan of the second installment, but that doesn't mean that everyone will feel the same way I do. So...read at your own discretion.(less)
In the YA book world, 2011 is definitely shaping up to be the year of the dystopia. With the popularity and acclai...more(Cross-posted from The Book Lantern)
In the YA book world, 2011 is definitely shaping up to be the year of the dystopia. With the popularity and acclaim of Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games trilogy, the young adult publishing world seemed to explode with all kinds of ideas for dystopias about oppression and chaos -- and publishers were all the more willing to oblige them due to the proven success of The Hunger Games.
Truthfully, I don't think the quick comparison to The Hunger Games does Divergent any favors except to build hype and expectations among readers. However much it's a great tactic for marketing, I personally don't know if this book should even be referred to as a dystopia since the label hurts more than helps it, giving the idea of one thing to the readers and offering something a little bit different with the story itself.
Let me explain: I have a set idea as to what, for me personally, a dystopian novel is. YA dystopian novels seem to have an identity crisis at times (something Vinaya spoke about here) where they're just so intent about illustrating some kind of suffering or shock factor hook that they lose the true meaning of a dystopia: a world that has descended from order to chaos, one where what once were nightmares and dark musings of past times (i.e. usually our own modern days) are now common pieces of society, even to the point where rights or privileges of the people have been abolished and replaced by 'what is deemed right and fair.'
Now, back to the case of Divergent: yes, it certainly has hints of dystopian tenets. . .but strip the layers of the story away and what do you have? Is it really a true dystopia, the kind that makes us fear for our own world because we see the problems and warnings present in our own time and place? Or just an action thriller with dystopian elements? Honestly, Divergent is an adrenaline-kick, shock-factor-enthusiast, and action-centric kind of book first and foremost; the dystopian undercurrent is mostly for show, at least in this beginning installment to the trilogy.
For being labeled a dystopia, the world-building behind the story leaves a lot to be desired. Though we are told that the five factions resulted from a 'great peace' following a devastating war, the nature and state of the world as a whole is a big unknown. Chicago is the focus, front and center, but any reader must wonder, "What about the rest of the United States? And the world itself?" Roth describes her world sparingly, giving only some modern downtown Chicago landmarks scene time to ground her world; one must wonder if the sparseness of setting is a sign of intentional withholding of information or lack of planning and fleshing of the story's world. (Personally, I hope it is the former.)
But all of those concerns of mine started to fade into the background as I continued to read. Though the flaws are many (the length, unfortunately, being one of them), Roth doesn't fail to draw readers into her story and make them feel compelled to keep reading just to see what happens. The first one hundred and fifty pages were a struggle for me, no lie, but then it got easier to accept the book for what it was instead of wishing for more of what I thought it could be. The most discernible problem for me was Beatrice, who was a difficult heroine to grow to like since she started out so judgmental and harsh to the point that she was a bit unrelatable. Then her 'change' seemed to come much too soon, but I was glad for it since she eventually became a bearable (though, at times, still not particularly likable) heroine.
The novel's plot doesn't start to come together under the last one hundred or so pages, but I have to appreciate the character relationships that grow within the story. However much I was ready to ride them off in the beginning, the characters grew on me (sometimes in spite of myself), and I really started to care about what was happening to them and around them. When I start off with questionable feelings towards a book, I don't often change my mind. . .but, with Divergent, I eventually found myself swayed.
In the end, what struck (and stuck with) me most about the novel overall is this: the underlying theme of morals and their importance in the story. The factions themselves are representations of things valued and praised within the Bible: selflessness, bravery, honesty, knowledge, and peace. (I am not taking liberties by assuming Roth used the Bible as inspiration for her world; she herself has not hidden the fact that she is a Christian.) Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by the moral aspect of the novel, and it gave the story some of the depth I had been craving all along. Let it be known that, at its core, this novel is about choices, priorities, and beliefs. This tendency isn't a flaw in the story, however; rather, I think it helps to enhance and differentiate a book that would otherwise have been lost in similarities to its popular predecessor.
(I will also give Roth credit in this respect: she could have easily had her factions act forever positively in regards to their specific traits, but instead she does not shy away from casting all the factions in gray lights. All the characters are ambiguous figures, mostly neither hero nor villain but rather 'flawed human,' and that in itself is refreshing in a YA landscape of 'goodies and baddies.')
Though this novel contains a rocky and lengthy start that takes away a bit from the impact of the novel as a whole, the story does eventually 'get there' where you're invested (even if only to see where everything is going). It took a while for me to care, but other readers who are more action-oriented than I am may look at this novel with more patience and appreciation. As it is, I'll be reading the sequels to see how the story continues, but I stand by my words that this novel is much more appealing when it is showing off its games of ambiguity and morality than its plays at brutality and violence.
My conclusion: Divergent is a free-for-all book dependent entirely on a reader's specific tastes and expectations. There's just no way to go other than reading it for yourself and deciding your own stance on it. Like it or dislike it, you will definitely be able to admit one thing, at least: it's a book that's going to lead to a lot of interesting discussions among readers.
(Note (May 7, 2012): I know I'm in the minority with this book, but I thought a re-read might help me to warm up to some of the things I had disliked the first time around. However, I just couldn't finish reading it a second time. Most novels I liked can at least hold up during a re-read...but not so with this one. Thus, I felt the need to detract a star from my original three-star rating.)(less)
I had much trouble forming my thoughts about this book to write a review. Across the Universe is a hard book to describe. Yes, it has that lovely cove...moreI had much trouble forming my thoughts about this book to write a review. Across the Universe is a hard book to describe. Yes, it has that lovely cover that beckons everyone to read it. Yes, it has an interesting premise. Yes, it has all these elements to make it a brilliant read, something fresh and exciting. But, for me, it just didn't give me everything I had wanted.
Dystopias and I have a love-hate relationship. I love The Hunger Games and Unwind -- but others books, like Matched and Wither, are more 'iffy' to me than anything. If I were to compare Across the Universe to certain dystopian novels, I would say it could have been the child of The Host and Inside Out with a bit of Star Trek thrown in for good measure. (I'm definitely a Star Wars fan rather than a Star Trek fan, though, so you can imagine why this book and I clashed a bit.) Almost the entire story takes place on the ship christened Godspeed as it travels to a new planet, labeled as Centauri-Earth, which humans hope to colonize. The estimated time of travel is 250 years, and sixteen-year-old Amy is one of the few to be frozen alive and loaded as cargo, set to be reawakened when the ship makes landing.
Due to outside forces, however, Amy is reawakened early. . .and she finds herself on the ship, a country unto itself ruled by a man named Eldest who has a successor named Elder. The story flip-flops perspectives between Amy and Elder so that you get the whole story. . .and it's not a bad story to read. It is, however, a game of truth and lies, deception and trust, conspiracies and secrets. You never know what's true or not in the story, and I found that to be a bit of a flaw. I dislike books where you never know who to trust. It takes away something from the story if I have to question everyone's credibility.
As characters, Amy and Elder sometimes seemed more like pawns going through the motions than anything else. Amy was a much more vibrant character than Elder, who went back and forth too much for my tastes. I didn't like how he always went back to 'Well, Eldest said. . .' when all the while I was thinking, "You can't trust a damn thing Eldest says!" The only other character I liked was Harley, the is-he-crazy-or-is-he-not artist, whom I actually believed was a better match for Amy than Elder. But, of course, that pipe dream is dead. . .so that cued grumbling on my part.
I will give Revis kudos for this: she made the science believable to me. In a year where there are so many dystopias to read, she actually grounded her book in some realism as far as science and its power go. But she leaves this question too: should we let science rule us, or should we use science sparingly and see what we can do for ourselves? It's a question we all will one day have to face for ourselves.
Across the Universe, for all its lofty ambitions, just didn't wow me as I had expected. Instead, I was left with a read where I liked some parts and disliked others. All in all, it was an underwhelming read to me. Will I read the sequel that's likely forthcoming? That, my friends, is still left up in the air. (less)