Thursday, June 14, 2012

“The difficult thing isn't living with other people, it's understanding them.”

Blindness – Jose Saramago
326 pages
Genre:  Dystopia; Classic; Portugese

Summary:  On a seemingly ordinary day, a random person is suddenly afflicted with blindness.  Things only get stranger when more and more people become blind as the days go on, and said people are put into quarantine while researchers try to figure out what’s going on.  The afflicted band together in their new home, while unbeknownst to them, panic engulfs the city they left behind.  Will order and sight ever be returned?

Review:  Blindness was a thoroughly absorbing read that left me eagerly turning the pages from start to finish.

The unnamed society that Saramgo imagines in this effort could really be any society in the modern world, and perhaps that’s what makes Blindness so terrifying and memorable.  The characters within were just going about their normal lives when the disease set in, and it really makes one think that it could happen anywhere.  The fact that those afflicted were quarantined for something they couldn’t control was also very scary, and when the circumstances are taken into consideration, it’s not difficult to imagine that any society would probably act in a similar fashion if something like this were to occur.

The most powerful aspect of Blindness was definitely the characters.  None of them were named, and instead, the reader got to know them through their actions.  Much like the characters, the reader was, in a sense, blind, as said characters could’ve been anyone, sort of like an “everyman.”

The overarching theme for the book was the concept of blindness and how important it is to open one’s eyes and really see things for how they are.  Many people live in their own little world of ignorance or blindness, and Blindness stresses how important it is not to do so, as catastrophe could occur.

Blindness was a haunting, powerful, universal book that portrays what could happen if one doesn’t remove their blinders.  If you’re a fan of dystopias or allegory, give this one a try.  There are a few very graphic scenes that will probably haunt my memory for awhile, though, so be mindful that that’s present if you can’t stomach those kinds of things.

Rating:  4/5

“I laugh maniacally, then take a deep breath and touch my chest- expecting a heart to be thumping quickly, impatiently, but there's nothing there, not even a beat.”

American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
399 pages
Genre:  Horror; Contemporary; Classic

Summary:  On the outside, Patrick Bateman, a young, successful businessman, seems to be a well-adjusted person.  As we all know, however, appearances can be deceiving, and in Bateman's case that theory is definitely true, as he is actually a cold, calculating killer.  Will the atrocities he commits ever be stopped?

Review:  My immediate thought after finishing this book:  “What the actual eff did I just read?!  Sweet mother of humanity, I need a drink.”

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be in the mind of a killer, let me introduce you to American Psycho’s narrator, Patrick Bateman.  When he’s not thinking about his image, what everyone else is wearing, how much money he has, or where he’s going for dinner and drinks, he’s letting the reader see the horrible atrocities that he commits exactly as he sees them.  The scenes within this book were graphic and disturbing, and I’m sure I’ll remember many of them for years to come, not because I want to, but because they were just that messed up.

While I understood very well why American Psycho focused so much on image and I thought it was a very effective strategy, it just wasn’t really my cup of tea.  Image was everything to Bateman, but for the reader, well, it just kind of drove me crazy, probably because I really don’t care about what the characters were wearing or eating or listening to.   It really did highlight just how neurotic Bateman was, though, hence the effectiveness.

American Psycho wasn’t for me, but if you enjoy shocking stories with detailed, gory, grisly murders, you might enjoy this book.

Rating:  2/5

Monday, June 11, 2012

“Why do girls always feel like they have to apologize for giving an opinion or taking up space in the world? Have you ever noticed that? You go on websites and some girl leaves a post and if it's longer than three sentences or she's expressing her thoughts about some topic, she usually ends with, 'Sorry for the rant' or 'That may be dumb, but that's what I think.”

Beauty Queens – Libba Bray
396 pages
Genre:  YA; Humor; Adventure; Chick Lit

Summary:  Miss Teen Dream, a prestigious pageant that features fifty contestants, is upon us.  The contestants are on a plane to the pageant when disaster strikes:  the plane crashes on a remote island, and many of the girls die.  Will the survivors band together in order to survive?  Will they ever return to civilization?

Review:  I’ve only read a few books by Libba Bray, and my overall experience has been rather mixed.  Fortunately for me, I found Beauty Queens to be a thoroughly fun romp through the pageant jungle (see what I did there?)

The standout feature of this book was, of course, the humor.  I firmly believe that any book written about pageants shouldn’t take itself too seriously, and Bray certainly didn’t fail to entertain me.  All of the subject matter certainly wasn’t warm, fuzzy, and happy (I mean, they got in a plane crash, for goodness sakes), but even at its more serious moments, Beauty Queens had me laughing out loud.  The scene that sticks out the most in this regard is definitely how some of the contestants wanted to continue practicing for the pageant, even though they were castaways on an island and there was no real possibility that they would be leaving anytime soon.  I also loved that one of the teams decided to choose “Sparkle Ponies” as their team name; I may or may not have spit out my coffee when I read that because I was laughing so hard.

While humor abounds, Beauty Queens also tackles serious issues.  On the whole, the book was a tongue-in-cheek attempt to poke fun at American culture, and it worked really well.  The bits with commercials from the Corporation were especially compelling, and even though I was reading, it almost felt like I was watching television. 

In the same vein, I loved the fact sheets and different voices throughout.  Even though many of the contestants may have seemed flighty and perfect on the outside, on the inside, there was usually a lot going on.  Many issues are tackled, including sexuality, gender identity, losing a parent, feeling insecure, and feeling like an outcast because of ethnicity, and they were addressed exceptionally well. I’m sure many teens could relate to the experiences detailed therein.

The cast of characters was absolutely phenomenal.  Adina was probably my favorite of the contestants because she was so complex.  I also found the scenes with Lady Bird to be rather compelling, even though I predicted the plot twist with her character.

All in all, Beauty Queens was a really fun read that was hilarious and tackled important issues.  If you need a laugh, definitely check it out.

Rating:  4/5

“It's the intent, not the word, that makes something harsh.”

Cryer’s Cross – Lisa McMann
233 pages
Genre:  YA; Mystery

Summary:  Something strange is happening in the normally quiet, little town of Cryer’s Cross, Montana:  a student has vanished without a trace.  The search is on, and things only get weirder when another student goes missing.  The town is obviously shaken up by these tragic events, especially Kendall, a sixteen-year-old student who lives there.  Will they catch the perpetrator of the crimes?  Will Kendall be the next victim?

Review:  My commute from work to home tends to take forever, so I decided that audiobooks would be a better idea than flipping through radio stations for 40 or so minutes.  Even though it’s received mixed reviews, I really enjoyed McMann’s Wake trilogy, so I thought Cryer’s Cross would be a good audiobook for me try.  Unfortunately, I didn’t care for this book at all.

The premise, students going missing in a small town and the impact it had on said town, was a rather intriguing one, but along the way, it failed in execution.  There wasn’t a ton of action in the middle of the book, and it left me feeling rather bored until things began to pick up at the end.  A lot of the dialogue seemed rather forced and cheesy, and I laughed at things that weren’t meant to be funny numerous times.  Perhaps I had this experience because I listened to the audiobook instead of reading the actual book, but I’m not quite sure.

As for the characters, the standout for me was definitely Jacien.  He was complex, interesting, and brooding, and I liked that he was out of the norm in the small town.  Kendall was okay as a narrator, but she made a lot of really stupid decisions, especially near the story’s conclusion, and I didn’t like her all that much.

Things started picking up a bit at the end, and I liked discovering how the disappearances occurred.  The method that made the voices occur, however, was really cheesy, and I may or may not have laughed out loud when that was revealed.

Cryer’s Cross definitely wasn’t for me, but reluctant readers may enjoy this one.

Rating:  1/5

Other Books by Lisa McMann:  Wake, Fade, Gone

“How dare she be anything he was annoyed with her for not being!"

I’m Starved for You – Margaret Atwood
62 pages
Genre:  Dystopia

Summary:  In the not-so-distant future, a town called Consilience emerges in the United States.  The world outside of the community has gone crazy, so people have voluntarily elected to join the community in order to serve their “voluntary incarceration” time on alternating months, switching off with other people accordingly.  Everything is going along quite swimmingly, until Stan, one of the volunteers, discovers a note left in his house by the people that live there when he’s not there.  Will he be able to return to his life of normalcy in the community?

Review:  Margaret Atwood is one of my all-time favorite writers, so when I found out about this one, I downloaded it immediately.  As always, Atwood delivered in I’m Starved For You, and the only thing that would’ve made it better is if it were novel length.

Consilience, the community Atwood imagined, is completely eerie, and like most dystopias, doesn’t seem completely out of the realm of possibility.  Basically, the world had gone to hell in a hand basket and the prisons were overrun, so people are voluntarily going to prison to serve out their terms.  I really liked that this system wasn’t even questioned, but rather, just accepted by the people within the community.  They honestly felt like they were getting a better deal by living here, which might be the creepiest part of all.

The characters were rather dry at first, which fit perfectly with the world they were living in, and I really liked how Stan started evolving when he found the note.  Maybe this insularly world isn’t as perfect as it seems.  I also thought it was interesting that the characters never really gave much thought to the other people living in the house.  I know I would wonder about the other occupants, but I can see why they wouldn’t; why would you need to wonder when everything is being taken care of and left just as it was when you left?

I’m Starved for You was a really great short story that will definitely make you think.  If you enjoy dystopias, especially those that Atwood writes, give it a try.

Rating:  4/5

Saturday, June 9, 2012

“What do you think my chances might be of finding a soul mate in the group of you? I'll be lucky if I can just find someone who'll be able to stand me for the rest of our lives. What if I've already sent her home because I was relying on some sort of spark I didn't feel? What if she's waiting to leave me at the first sign of adversity? What if I don't find anyone at all? What do I do then, America?”

The Selection – Kiera Cass
327 pages
Genre:  YA; Fantasy; Chick Lit

Summary:  In the aftermath of a world torn apart by war, a ruling body has established itself as the leader of the people.  Prince Maxon, the son of the current monarchs and heir to the throne, has arrived at a respectable marital age, and because of this, a selection will take place to determine who his wife will be.  Any eligible girl of marital age in the realm is entered into the event if she so chooses, and from that pool, thirty-five girls are chosen.  America, our narrator, is one such girl, and quite frankly, she’s not very happy about being chosen at all.  When she meets Prince Maxon, will she change her mind about the whole thing, or will she continue to sulk and hate her new-found fame?

Review:  One magical day, I was at my friend, Christina’s, house looking through her bookshelves, because that is what all of the cool people do when they hang out with their friends.  The Selection caught my eye right away because of the fancy dress on the cover, and being the thoughtful, benevolent soul that she is, my friend let me borrow it (and I really need to return it.  My b!). 

I went into this with an open mind because it’s definitely out of the realm of literature I normally read (I tend to prefer dark, heavy subject matter), but I thought this one would be a good bit of fun.  Fortunately, The Selection was a really fun read, and I’m looking forward to reading more in, what I’m assuming will be, this series.

If you’re looking for an intellectual read, put The Selection back on the shelf and walk away.  If, however, you’d like a fluffy piece of joy that you’ll eat up like delicious cotton candy, turn around, pick the book back up, and skip off into the sunset because you’ve found what you’re looking for.  This book isn’t serious literature, nor does it pretend to be, but it’s seriously fun.  There is a special place in my heart for cheesy reality shows, and when I read that this book was a lot like The Bachelor, I was so excited to read it.  What could be more fun than watching aspiring princesses try to claim the love of a prince? 

I was expecting drama amongst the contestants in this book, and it definitely delivered.  I loved reading about all of the backstabbing, plotting, and scheming, and I also loved watching the relationship progress between Maxon and America.  The role America played was an interesting one, indeed, and it added an attention-grabbing dynamic to the book.

While America was definitely not my favorite heroine of all time, it was interesting to see the book from her point of view.  She made it perfectly clear to the reader that she didn’t really want to be in the contest, so watching her go through it without a ton of princess fantasies was pretty fun.  Some of the things she did got on my nerves a bit, but it didn’t really detract from my overall enjoyment of the story.

If you like chick lit, reality tv, or if you’re looking for something that’s just entertaining and doesn’t require a ton of thought, give The Selection a try.

Rating:  3/5

“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.”

Divergent – Veronica Roth
487 pages
Genre:  YA; Dystopia

Summary:  After an apocalyptic event has occurred, Chicago portioned itself off into five groups in an attempt to thwart off any more violence.  These very distinct groups, Dauntless, Erudite, Amity, Abnegation, and Candor, live out their lives in very different fashions, and at the age of sixteen, everyone is required to choose which group he or she would like to be a part of.  Born into the group Abnegation, or those who are selfless, sixteen-year-old Beatrice is forced to choose between remaining loyal to her group and her family, or striking out on her own and joining a completely different group.  What decision will she make, and will it ultimately prove to be the right one?

Review:  Divergent came highly recommended to me from some well-trusted and respected sources.  I was really excited to read this book, as I’ve heard such great things about it, but I tried not to set the bar too high for fear of disappointment.  While I did mostly enjoy this book, I also had several problems with it that has left me with an overwhelming feeling that can best be described as ‘meh.’ 

First, the good:  I really liked the world that Roth has imagined in this effort.  It was interesting to see how the world was divided.  The divisions reminded me very much of the sorting hat in Harry Potter, which is a good thing because that series will always be one of my favorites.  The characters were also really compelling, and I thought Tris was a great narrator.

Now, the questionable:  While I did think the division of this world was creative, the explanation behind it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.  I read this book a month or two ago so my memory is a bit fuzzy, but I believe it was explained that the world was separated in order to avoid more violence and conflict.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but historically, hasn’t separating people based on things that don’t really matter much in the grand scheme of things been the root cause of violence and dissension?  Despite its best intentions, since separation is oftentimes not equal, especially when there’s a ruling class involved, wouldn’t this plan just cause more chaos?  In the same vein, wouldn’t Erudite have been the actual ruling body, and not Abnegation?  I understand why Abnegation was chosen for this job (they were selfless, so they’d make unbiased decisions), but wouldn’t you want the most intelligent people (Erudite) to be the ruling body?

Another thing that I found questionable was Tris’ decision as it relates to the community she chose.  I don’t want to reveal which community she chose just in case you haven’t read the book yet, but I suppose I feel this way because, personality wise, I felt she could’ve fit in better with a different group.  While the path she chose was interesting, it didn’t quite make sense when her personality was factored into the equation.

Despite my problems with Divergent, I still consider it a worthwhile read.  The book raised plenty of questions, and I’m looking forward to hopefully finding the answers I seek in Insurgent. 
Action abounds in this book, so if you’re a fan of dystopias, give it a try.  Even though the main point-of-view is Tris’, I think both boys and girls would enjoy this book because of its pacing, characters, and action sequences.

Other Books in this Series:  Insurgent (Book 2)

Read-alikes:  The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, Legend, Enclave

If you lived in this society and had to choose a faction, which would you pick?

“She knows that whispers can be useful. Sometimes they contain real information. But usually they're fairy tales and lies. This is the worst kind of whisper, the kind that draws you in, gives you hope.”

Pure – Julianna Baggott
Book 1 in the Pure series
448 pages
Genre:  Dystopia

Summary:  A cataclysmic event known as the Detonations occurred, and the world has been forever changed.  Survivors of this apocalypse were fused with items they were holding at the time, and some people were even fused with other people.  Pressia, the protagonist, doesn’t remember much about the Detonations, but does have a souvenir from them:  a doll that was affixed to her hand by the blast.  As Pressia nears the age where she is to be turned into a soldier, she leaves her home and lives a life on the run, meeting up with many different people.  One person in particular, Partridge, is a Pure, or a person that has no abnormalities from the blast. Can the two work together, even though they’re from vastly different backgrounds?

Review:  I really love dystopias, so when I saw that Pure was one of the new titles at my library, I screamed with delight and checked it out.  I also may have clapped like a seal while I screamed with delight, but that’s neither here nor there.  Anyway, I found Pure to be a rather compelling read, and I’m anxious to read the next book in the series.

Before I get into my review, I feel like I need to comment on the YA distinction for Pure that I first noticed on GoodReads.  I was quite surprised to see it advertised as such, as I felt the tone and writing style were much better-suited for adult readers.  Would teens like these, too?  I would say yes, probably so, but I’m not quite sure if that was the original intended audience.  This is, of course, my opinion, and I’m really interested to hear your opinion on this if you’ve read the book.  Okay, onward!

I really liked the premise of Pure, and I especially enjoyed that it was told mostly through the eyes of the survivors who were outside of the Dome when the blast occurred.  While I’m not sure that I completely buy the explanation regarding people’s fusion with objects and how they survived, it was still rather interesting to read about.  The objects themselves were almost characters of their own, and the way in which they inserted themselves into people was really creative.  For me, two in particular really stood out:  the doll head on Pressia’s arm, and the fan that lodged itself into her grandfather’s throat.  Creepy, but definitely unique.

I enjoyed most of the characters, and I definitely liked that the majority of the novel was told from Pressia’s point of view.  Pressia was quite brave and strong, and I liked seeing things from her perspective, as she was one of the people who were left behind.  Partridge was also great, and it was enjoyable to contrast the two, as their lives were so vastly different.  While he wasn’t featured in the majority of the story, I also really liked Pressia’s grandfather, as he was smart and interesting.

The contrast of life in the Dome to life outside was also rather fascinating.  It was interesting to read about how history had been distorted, along with the things that those both inside and outside of the Dome were taught to believe.  It definitely provided a great foil when the two worlds collided in the form of Partridge and Pressia.

Pure left me with a lot of questions at its end, and I’m really looking forward to getting some answers in the next book.  If you enjoy dystopias, especially those dealing with detonations, give it a try.

Rating:  3/5

Other Books in this Series:  Book 2:  Fuse (expected publication:  2013); Book 3:  Burn

“Just because you don't say much doesn't mean people don't notice you. It's actually the quiet ones who often draw the most attention. There's this constant whirlwind of motion and sound all around, and then there's the quiet one, the eye of the storm.”

After – Amy Efaw

350 pages

Genre:  YA; Realistic Fiction

Summary:  Devon, a straight-A student and star athlete, is rarely inclined to do anything wrong, until one fateful day when a single decision changes her life forever.  Devon discovers she’s pregnant, and instead of keeping the baby when it arrives, she opts to throw it in a trash can and leave it for dead.  This plan seems to be going off without a hitch, until detectives arrive and discover she is the perpetrator of the crime.  Can Devon get herself out of this mess?

Review:  First, a confession:  I’m really drawn to shows and books that are about teen pregnancy, especially the MTV hit Teen Mom (I honestly have no idea why).  I’m not proud (but apparently not so ashamed that I can’t admit to this on a public forum), but it is what it is.  Because of this, it will probably come as no surprise that I was really excited to read After, as it was vastly different than what I’m used to reading about teen pregnancy.  Much to my chagrin, however, I didn’t really care for this book all that much, which was a shame since I really wanted to like it.

The main problem I had centered around Devon herself.  Yes, she was smart and capable, but it did not excuse the poor decision she made regarding her child’s birth.  I’m 100% pro-choice, so it’s not the fact that she didn’t want the baby that bothers me; what bothers me is the fact that she tried to kill it after it was born.  Since she decided not to terminate her pregnancy in its early stages, she could have given the child up for adoption instead of putting it in a dumpster shortly after its birth.  There were other options available, and she just didn’t take them.  I understand that she was scared and acted without thinking, but she never really seemed all that remorseful about her actions; rather, she just seemed upset that she got caught.  Perhaps if she would’ve shown an iota of repentance and thought for just a second that maybe she made the wrong choice, I would’ve cared about her more.  Because of this, along with the fact that she never revealed too much of herself to the reader, I had a really hard time relating to her at all, and if she would’ve stopped trying to shift the blame and pretend like it wasn’t happening, perhaps I would’ve liked her more.

I had heard of ‘dumpster babies’ before I read this, and I was hoping After would shed some insight on why someone would make this decision.  We all know it would be an act of desperation, but Devon’s complete refusal to accept reality did nothing to help her case.  I really wish this could’ve been more than it was.

I did enjoy reading the drama regarding whether she would be tried in juvenile or adult court.  If found guilty, adult court would, of course, make her sentence much stiffer than juvenile court, and it was interesting to see the evidence and arguments presented on both sides of the case.  After also raised many moral dilemmas for the reader to postulate on:  should a person be defined for their entire life by something they did as a teenager?  Should people be given a second chance?  What would you do in this situation?

While After wasn’t for me, people who enjoy realistic fiction and courtroom dramas may like it.  I would recommend it for older readers, though, as the subject matter and some of the scenes therein are rather graphic indeed.

Rating:  2/5