Book Review: The Selection

The Selection by Kiera CassWhen I picked up The Selection by Kiera Cass (336 pages), it was exactly what I needed at the time: something fluffy and light. Plus, look at that cover with the pretty, pretty dresses. Yep. Just what I needed.

Basic plot: the prince is having a contest (run reality TV style) to find his next bride. Sort of like Cinderella crossed with The Bachelor. The POV character, America, is chosen, but she has a boyfriend back home so she is none too happy about it–except being one of the selected means her family gets compensated and it changes their lives.

What I Liked

– I loved the romance between America and Maxon. I loved how they get to know each other and find ways to break rules within the game to spend more and more time together. Mostly, I liked that they build a friendship (especially because America insists she could never, ever love Maxon what with her true love Aspen back home) and create an alliance to keep her in the game.

– America’s sister is pretty great.

– America’s relationship with her maids.

– Maxon. What a great dude. Swoonworthy BECAUSE he is so kind and thoughtful and open to learning what his subjects experience.

– I loved the set up of how/why America was chosen. Totally believable.

What I Didn’t Like

–  I don’t get why this has to be a dystopian thing. Just…why? I think the conceit of the novel (a contest to pick the prince’s next bride) works on its own without the other extraneous rebels and blah blah stuff I care nothing about. I mean, sure, okay, the caste system sets up the whole dumb Aspen pride thing and that Maxon cares about the people. Fine. The backdrop of the war shows why diplomacy in picking the next bride counts. Fine, but not really necessary. Politics are politics, yes? But there was a whole lot of other stuff that just made me roll my eyes and took me out of enjoying the fact that THE PRINCE USES A REALITY TV CONTEST TO PICK HIS BRIDE. Doesn’t that already have high enough stakes? Isn’t that enough?

I would’ve liked the book more without the other stuff is what I’m saying. Because it’s about a prince that uses a reality TV contest to pick his bride.

– Aspen is THE WORST. Ugh. The fact that he’s even a viable love interest makes me want to set things on fire. Am I supposed to be torn between Aspen and Maxon? Because no. No contest. None whatsoever.

– Her name is America Singer. Is her middle name Liberty or did I just make that up? Because, wow, cheesy. And I love a good corny name, but still. (Did I mention her family are all performers? I like that it’s a callback to when people’s last names and professions matched, though. So maybe file that under Goofy Things about the Novel.)

– Seriously, though, Aspen sucks so hard.

– SO HARD.

– Like, I am genuinely concerned that teen girls out there may think he’s awesome and that depresses me. Because he is the worst. In case that wasn’t clear.

In conclusion: A fun romance with an interesting premise. Too bad about the distracting dystopian elements, though.

539

Book Review: Son

The Product was what they had carved out of her.

And she missed it. She was suffused with a desperate feeling of loss.

I feel like Son by Lois Lowry is a gift to readers of The Giver. Well, that’s not true. I feel like the first two parts of Son are a gift. I feel like the last part is more of an epilogue for readers who want to know more about Jonas, Kira (of Gathering Blue), and Gabriel and what happened to them.

That’s my way of saying I absolutely LOVED the first two parts of the book and liked the last part okay.

Here’s what I loved:

– Claire. Claire is awesome. She’s so fully drawn and realized. Her heartbreak is my heartbreak. Her triumph is my triumph. Claire is the best.

– I loved revisiting the community from The Giver. I especially liked seeing it from another perspective and learning more about how other parts of the community Jonas couldn’t/didn’t see operate. I wonder, now, how many other people stopped taking their pills or flirted with learning more. How many others had a dissatisfaction. And what about the people who enforced and made the laws? So many more possibilities opened up once I read about the community again.

Although, wow, that place is so heartbreaking. The lack of love, of real joy. How absent and distant everyone is. I think Lowry really shows why living that way is terrible while at the same time making the reader understand how some people would think that’s a better way to do things.

– I don’t know exactly what to say about the Birthmothers and their lives, but I do enjoy the commentary Lowry is making about how some people view mothers.

– Einar. Let me just say that if I were participating in Yuletide in any capacity, I would be all over some Claire/Einar fanfiction. And I’m not a huge fanfic reader.

– The world-building in all three sections is stellar.

– I also love Lowry’s final commentary on evil (or what I perceive her point to be): Though evil may try to vanquish that which is good, it never truly succeeds, especially because it discounts the amazing heart and willingness of people to endure.

Why the third part didn’t work for me:

– I don’t want to spoil the story, so I’ll just say the characterization in that part wasn’t as strong, and the plot felt rushed. While things moved quickly in the first two parts, I felt like so much more was going on and that I was so absorbed in the world. I didn’t have that same sense in the third part.

In fact, I would argue that the first two parts mirror The Giver and Gathering Blue, and the third part mimics the style of Messenger, which would explain my reaction to this book.

In conclusion: A wonderful ending to the mythology of The Giver, though I wish the entire book had been as absorbing as the first two parts of its narrative.

Source: Library

Mini Reviews: Fiction

As I said in my previous post, I am really far behind, so mini reviews! Some of these date back to October, just to give a clue at how far behind I am.

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins: I’ll be upfront and say I don’t have as deep a relationship with this series as most. I don’t remember much of what happened in the first book, and I put this book on hold with no real urgency. Mostly, I wanted to read it before the spoilers proliferated the blogosphere, but, you know, whenever the book came available is when I  would read it. Which is what I did.

I know a lot of people were disappointed with this book, but I actually liked it. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been reading so many war narratives this year or what, but I thought this was an excellent book about the effects of trauma as well as how much war sucks and that there are no real winners in a war.

I found myself much more interested in the focus on rhetoric in this book, even though I know it was a large part of the other books as well. Also, I have to be honest, that as someone who loves Peeta, this was a hard book to read. PEETA. Peeta, I love you so.  Poor dude.

YA Reading Challenge: 30/75

My Double Life by Janette Rallison: I found this book to be a bit of a disappointment, especially because the premise is so strong. Basically, there was too much romance and not enough family/friendship. I was way more interested in how Alexia would relate to her family (new and old) but Rallison went with the boy angle. So. Yeah.

YA Reading Challenge: 31/75; POC Reading Challenge: 22/15

Alvin Ho Collection: Books 1 and 2: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things and Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters by Lenore Look:  We listened to this on audiobook and, lo, it is AWESOME. Alvin Ho is a great character. He’s funny and smart and, yes, afraid of everything. He has an awesome best friend who wears an eyepatch and has a bad leg, but her real crime is being a girl. His older brother and younger sister provide him no end of amusement or grief depending on the circumstances, and his quest to fit in and not be so darned scared all the time is where most of the comedy comes in. The narrator of the books is Everette Plen, and he is FANTASTIC. We really enjoyed listening to these two books and will be passing the Alvin Ho joy to my daughter’s younger cousins.

POC Reading Challenge: 23/15

Played by Dana Davidson: Stylistically, I had a lot of issues with this book. Some of the dialogue was stilted, there were some scenes I didn’t get, and it got totally preachy at times (Virginity: It is special). But. BUT. This book totally got me in the gut. I don’t know if it was my overidentification with Kylie and her need to be wanted/liked or just the fact that the characters and their situation was so heartbreakingly realistic, but I found myself worrying about Kylie when I wasn’t reading the book and hoping everything would work out okay for her. Which I knew it couldn’t, really, but I just wanted it to!

Also, I found the ending pretty satisfying, and considering all the ways in which I was prepared to hate everything about it, that’s saying a lot. Stupid Ian and his stupid need to fit in. GAH.

YA Reading Challenge: 32/75; POC Reading Challenge: 24/15

The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #2) by Rick Riordan: We attempted to listen to this on audiobook but had to let that dream go because, as previously mentioned, the narrator is really annoying. So! I read this one, and I actually liked it more than the first. I thought the pacing was good, I loved the new characters introduced, and I also enjoyed how Riordan managed to fold in a whole! new! quest! without just replaying the first novel over again. Nicely done. I’ve already started the third book.

Book Review: The Surrogates

Surrogates are a vain attempt to improve upon God’s already perfect will.  They represent the worst efforts of men to supercede God and become gods themselves.

The SurrogatesI picked up The Surrogates by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele from the library because I didn’t have the time or money to see the film version starring my old man crush Bruce Willis.  Of course, I finally finished the book a couple of days before the movie became available at the library.  Ah well.

The book is about a world where surrogates (“android substitutes that let people interact with the real world without ever leaving their homes”–jacket flap) are the norm except someone or something is deep frying surrogate circuitry with a command to the owners:  “Live.”

What I Liked

– I love the deeper meanings the text explores about race, gender, and class.  Each chapter ends with media (academic papers, newspaper articles, advertisements) explaining a little bit about the world, which provides context, and that’s what really creates the conversation about the impact of surrogates.  People choose surrogates based on career aspirations, romantic interests, etc.  So a lot of their choice is dictated by whom people expect to see in those roles.  (For example, women who want to be pilots choose male surrogates.)  And, of course, not everyone can afford surrogates, and those people make up their own community (mostly, it seems, made up of religious zealots) who are, for the purposes of the narrative, anti-surrogate.

– The story is fast-paced and easy to follow.

– Character motivations are clear.

What I Didn’t Like

– I wasn’t really a fan of the artwork.  I think it’s well drawn and the moods are well set throughout (and I really appreciate that the chapter ending media is so distinct and slick), but I wanted a way, visually, to see the surrogates or real people marked.  And, yes, I realize the point is that the surrogates are so lifelike, but at the same time, I really wanted there to be a different feel or look applied to really play up the differences.

In conclusion:  Great story with interesting thematic elements that are really thought-provoking.

Book Review: Among the Hidden

“I am a third child!  I want to be treated like everyone else!”

When I did my independent study at Iowa State University, the professor book talked Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Among the Hidden, so when I saw it at the library book sale, I snatched it up.  It’s not hard to make the premise interesting because it is.  Luke is a third child, living in a world where it is illegal to have more than two children.  He’s not supposed to exist, and so he hides in his family’s home, unable to go to school or play outside or…anything.  And then one day, he sees the face of what could only be another third child in one of his neighbor’s windows.

What I Liked

– The premise.  This is dystopian fiction, so Haddix is able to call attention to the silent and nameless and faceless.  These children aren’t alloted food or privileges because they shouldn’t exist.  Why?  Because they’re a drain on the country’s resources and have no real purpose (according to the government) except to drain those resources.

– Jen.  Jen is awesome and amazing and I love her.  LOVE.  In fact, I honestly wish the narrative had been about her instead of Luke.  Or at least that we got to spend more time with her.  You know, like the whole book.

– Among Jen’s awesome?  She starts a movement to protect and guarantee the rights of third children.

– As with other dystopian novels I’ve read, this one is very strongly anti-censorship.

– There is also a great discussion of propoganda.  The ultimate message?  Extremes are not good.  Period.  Balanced information is key to making informed decisions.

– The book moves fast.  It does drag a little in the beginning, but as soon as Luke sees Jen, it picks up and never really slows down until the end.  That’s not to say it’s all go, go, go, but the readability factor is very high.

What I Didn’t Like

– As usual, there are, apparently, no minorities in the future/dystopia (unless you count the third children).  Unlike The Giver, no mention is made of what could have possibly happened to all of these people or why there is an absence of them.  (It’s like Minority Report in that way.)  You could read the book as minorites, the poor, etc. being third children, but, you know.  It’d be nice to get a mention in there somewhere.

– Jen is way more interesting than Luke, and, yet, he is the POV character.  When Jen isn’t around, her absence is obvious.  (Did I mention that I love her?)

In conclusion:  All in all, a good read.

I wasn’t going to count this for the YA reading challenge because it’s really a middle grade novel.  But it is an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, so on the list it goes.

YA Challenge:  2/75

Book Review: Catching Fire (Hunger Games #2)

And if a girl from District Twelve of all places can defy the Capitol and walk away unharmed, what is to stop them from doing the same?…What is to prevent, say, an uprising?

catchingCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins in the second of the Hunger Games trilogy.  It’s possible that you may have heard of it since it’s kind of a big deal.  In this book, Katniss adjusts–or attempts to adjust–to life after the murderous Hunger Games.

What I Liked

– Collins never lets you get comfortable, at all.  Things are constantly changing, the danger for Katniss is palpable and real, and the stakes are so high, it’s amazing there are roofs on the houses in District 12.  The book is tense, and that tension jumps right off the page.

– Peeta.  I am crazy in love with Peeta.

– The first person POV worked for me a lot more in this book than the previous one.  It was nice to be inside of Katniss’s head and truly blind to what was going on.  The twist (um, the second to last one) was as much a shock to me as it was to Katniss, and my reaction was pretty much the same as hers.  That’s a good thing.

– Everything is so messy and complicated.  In a good way, though!  Because Collins truly invites the reader to think and consider all possibilities.

– There is a lot of great character stuff in here, especially about Haymitch.

– I hate to even call it a love triangle, but I like the way, overall, that Katniss’s relationships with Peeta and Gale are handled.  Everything is so messed up, and there are no easy answers, nor is there a right way to handle any of it.  That much is clear.  All three of them have so much pride and in such different ways.  It just works really well.

What I Didn’t Like

– The beginning of the story, while heavy on the characterization, is very heavy on the tell instead of show.  There’s information put in for the sake of the sequel, and it’s obvious that’s why it’s there, because it’s not given the kind of attention it deserves.  I wanted Collins to slow down and let me experience some of the things that were happening (trying to keep this spoiler free) instead of “and then this and this and this and s/he told me this and this and this.”  There were opportunites for great dialogue that were just missed.  And it got to the point where I didn’t/couldn’t remember details/characters that came up later.  There were at least two points when I was asking, “Who is that?  Should I know that name?”  That’s not good.

The plus is that the second half of the book relies a lot more on showing instead of telling and so the narrative picks up considerably.

– Even though the book is from Katniss’s point of view, everything is very male heavy.  I don’t really get a sense of her sister or mother as real people at all–which has a lot to do with how Katniss views them, granted–but all of the other major people in her life, the ones who do the most helping, are men.  Her stylist, Haymitch, Peeta, Gale.

Women Unbound?

Does this book examine the relationship between gender and power?  Yes.  One of the things that is compelling about the series is the idea of putting on an act and a show of who you are supposed to be based on the audience.  Katniss is supposed to be a girl consumed by love, silly and superficial.  Not helpless, necessarily, but bound to traditional ideas of femininity with her upcoming wedding etc.  Katniss is a hunter, provider, rule breaker, unfrivolous, and everything opposite of what her Games character is supposed to be.  But the Capitol wants her to be that kind of girl, so that’s the kind of girl she has to pretend to be for her own survival–and her family’s.

There’s so much about class and gender wrapped up in these books and it’s handled so subtly and deftly that it can be easy to miss.  Not only is she just a girl, but she’s a girl from District 12 no less.  But Katniss is the girl on fire, the girl who becomes symbolic of a revolution.  I think that makes her pretty unbound.

In conclusion:  The book is certainly a thrilling read.  I can’t wait to read the sequel.