Thursday, November 8, 2012

How books are like the election...

This past month I feel like I've gotten more politics than my entire life-time. Of course I'm a bit older and feel more passionate about the issues at stake but this past election seemed more personal, more intense, more at the heart.

Right before the election, I posted on my own personal facebook page a political post. Unfortunately, that post turned into a commentary of personal attacks, snarky words, and jibes. It didn't really surprise me. We tend to be passionate and emotional about the things that are important to us. And that is a GREAT thing to feel. But I was also sad about the personal attacks and hurtful words that could have had the potential to damage and even ruin a relationship.

Then I started to think about how that experience relates to my time on Goodreads. As a book reviewer, I am definitely aware of the passion and intensity that comes when you either love or hate a book. And when you find someone who agrees with you, it feels validating, good, and powerful.

But what about those times when another reviewer doesn't agree? Often times, my initial reaction is to moan and groan, throw up my arms, kick and scream and demand that they are WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! How could they possibly think that way?

The best thing I've learned from my friends at Goodreads is how to talk to each other about the things we disagree with: If I can put aside my personal feelings and try to understand where the other person is coming from, it actually helps me understand the story better! Imagine that! Sometimes it makes me consider something I never would have if I hadn't actually listened. It helps me understand that people come with different experiences that make them see things differently. It makes me appreciate the diversity among us. It helps me understand myself better. And while I may not always agree with the other person, I have found that it does bring a deeper meaning to my experience.

Easier said than done, right? It's so much easier and natural to become defensive and justify your position. Because the alternative takes WORK, SELF-CONTROL, and EMPATHY to put aside personal emotions in order to listen and respect the other person.

Is it possible? I think so. I hope so. Practice makes perfect, right?

I am far from perfect with this but I hope I can be someone who shows respect and civility towards another person. Sometimes I fail miserably. Believe me, I do. Sometimes I need to walk away and cool-off before I say something hurtful. But sometimes I also succeed. It's a slow process but maybe someday I can be that person.

For now, I'm grateful for my friends and reviewers who have respected my thoughts and commentary. You are an awesome bunch, and I learn so much from you. My hope is that we can all vote for civility and peace. That's my much-too-serious-message for today...now let's get back to reading!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Eve: 90% Instalove, 10% Logic...100% Disappointment

Eve (Eve #1), By Anna Carey, Hardcover, 318 pages, Harper Collins, October 2011 
Genre: Dystopia, Sci/Fi, Romance
Goodreads rating: 1/5-2 Stars

Summary (via Goodreads):
The year is 2032*, sixteen years after a deadly virus—and the vaccine intended to protect against it—wiped out most of the earth’s population. The night before eighteen-year-old Eve’s graduation from her all-girls school she discovers what really happens to new graduates, and the horrifying fate that awaits her. 

Fleeing the only home she’s ever known, Eve sets off on a long, treacherous journey, searching for a place she can survive. Along the way she encounters Caleb, a rough, rebellious boy living in the wild. Separated from men her whole life, Eve has been taught to fear them, but Caleb slowly wins her trust...and her heart. He promises to protect her, but when soldiers begin hunting them, Eve must choose between true love and her life.

Review:

WARNING ALERT. WARNING ALERT.  From this point forward, it's not going to be pretty...

Dystopia is probably one of the hardest worlds to build because its entire foundation is based on the assumption of  what might be possible.  The biggest impact dystopia has on the reader is: Could this really happen?


In Eve, sadly, the answer to that question was "no." As I uncovered more and more to Eve's world, the only words coming to mind were "this doesn't make sense." The logic behind Eve's world is weak, and I couldn't connect our humanity with that of hers.  


When Eve is 5 years old, her mother is taken ill with the plague. Eve gets taken to a school for orphans where she is educated. Because most of the population has been wiped out by a deadly virus, the country becomes  governed by a "King" (Reminds me of North Korea.) But while Eve has been educating herself on Scott Fitzgerald and Frida Kahlo, its graduates have been taken to serve as baby machines--a fate that also awaits Eve when she graduates.


Here's are my issues with the world building:

1) The timeline: I'm not exactly sure where Goodreads got the 2032 date.* I can't find it anywhere else. But according to my timeline, the year is closer to 2037. (If Eve was taken to the school when she was 5 along with the note from her mother dated 2025, then stayed there 12 years, the date should be closer to 2037.) The date itself isn't really that big of a deal but the timeline of events is. The cover says "16 years after a deadly virus..." So within 16 years, our entire democratic nation has completely crumbled? Sorry, I don't buy that. And who is this Politician/King that has enough military power and resources to control the entire United States...some multi-billionaire with an ego complex? The most I know about him is this:


 "The King took over and then you had to make a choice. Follow him or be in the wild alone."

What made the wild so unappealing? Furthermore, what "wild" are we talking about here? Why couldn't you have set up your own community? What resources/power did the King have to force compliance? Let's say that 80% of the current US population (313 million) died off (and 80% is pretty high...I think the Black Plague only hit about 60% in Europe), that would leave us with 62 million people. That's still A LOT of people.  So shouldn't there still be groups of resistance, groups of scientists, groups of professors, groups of historians, groups of religion...Would the majority of people really concede to anarchy? Maybe. But--there would have had to be extreme extreme factors to force compliance. Unless the King had something to bargain with, I find it very unbelievable that our entire society would submit. With a smaller population maybe, but if you think about all the logistics that would go into governing a huge land area like ours, it's highly improbable..


2) Repopulating the Earth: Stories dealing with re-population seem a bit eccentric and unrealistic. Personally, I'm not really worried about humans recouping its losses. Humans have experienced several plagues and even genocide that have decimated our numbers, but I don't recall any institutionalized baby factories. Sure it might take hundreds, even thousands of years, to recover our numbers but what's the hurry? Again, if Eve's virus decimated 80% of the world population of about 7 billion, that still leaves about 1.4 billion people (which is just a little less than the total world population of 1.7 billion in 1900.) I'm kind of missing the point here. Again--what's the big rush to repopulate the earth quickly? And would people really jump on the baby band wagon?Also, if you want to get people to "breed," then why not use psychological tactics instead (i.e., speeches on 'it's your duty,' or rewards for birthing more children, etc...)


3) Why educate? Now, let's suppose we DO want to repopulate the earth quickly. Then, why educate the baby makers? According to the King's perspective:


"The King believed the science was the key to repopulating the earth quickly, efficiently, without all the complications of families, marriage, and love. He thought if you were given an education, you would be occupied and content. He thought that if you feared me, you girls would breed willingly without them."  

If I needed a baby factory, I wouldn't spend my time educating them on literature or the arts.  I would have girls start breeding as soon as they began menstruating. Maybe use them for domestic labor until they were able to breed. 


But aside from the technical aspects of the world building, I was also disappointed with:


1) The insta-love between Caleb and Eve: They went from 0 to 60 in about 2 seconds; she gets rescued, he teaches her to swim, they can't. live. without. each. other.

2) The helicopter hiding scene: Note to troops: when there's an abandoned helicopter in a middle of a field, you might want to check inside to see if maybe, just maybe that's where the fugitives are hiding...just a thought.
3) Eve's Radio Messages: I get it that maybe Eve didn't understand the danger she was in...but she CHOSE NOT to tell her host about sending out radio messages because "there was too much to tell." Was she so blinded by her love infatuation for Caleb, that she didn't consider the danger? Big mistake Eve.
4) Eve's almost rape scene: This scene came out. of. nowhere. Very uncharacteristic of the perpetrator--especially in light of his prior attitude towards Eve.

This book deals with a lot of holes and missing pieces. The logic is thin and the background research seemed nonexistent. The characters were flat and uninteresting. I had no interest in Eve; in fact, I was more interested in one of the minor characters: Arden (Eve's companion). Many times it seemed like scenes and circumstances were put together only for the purpose for pushing the story along--not because it was integral to the plot. Sadly, this one doesn't make the cut.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Outpost: Save me from the zombies!!!!

Outpost (Razorland #2)
By Ann Aguirre
Hardcover, 336 pages
Feiwel and Friends, Sept 2012

Genre: Sci/Fi, Horror
Rated: 3.5/4 stars on Goodreads

Summary: Deuce’s whole world has changed. Down below, she was considered an adult. Now, topside in a town called Salvation, she’s a brat in need of training in the eyes of the townsfolk. She doesn't fit in with the other girls: Deuce only knows how to fight.

To make matters worse, her Hunter partner, Fade, keeps Deuce at a distance. Her feelings for Fade haven’t changed, but he seems not to want her around anymore. Confused and lonely, she starts looking for a way out.

Deuce signs up to serve in the summer patrols—those who make sure the planters can work the fields without danger. It should be routine, but things have been changing on the surface, just as they did below ground. The Freaks have grown smarter. They’re watching. Waiting. Planning. The monsters don’t intend to let Salvation survive, and it may take a girl like Deuce to turn back the tide.


Review: I'm almost tempted to take my Enclave review from over a year ago, change a few points and call it done. I'm overdue in library fines...and it's basically identical to how I feel about Outpost (just add the romance part.) 

What this means is that what I thought about Aguirre's writing in Enclave is pretty much the same here...and I'm not yet sure if that's a good thing or not.

On the one hand, I very much enjoyed the background and thought process that went into the world of Outpost. Deuce has found herself in Salvation (a town based on fundamentalist/religious doctrine) and must figure out her role in it. The world building in Outpost is one of Aguirre's strengths in this series. She really tries to have you imagine what the world might look like if it went apocalyptic: there was the gang and underground life of Gotham, evidenced in Enclave and now in Outpost, another scene of life in a separate and guarded town much further away. Could this happen in reality? I think so. So in that regard, what Deuce tries to make sense of is real: how she was raised in her former life and what she is being taught now.

On the other hand, this would have made a much greater impression on me if there was more of a character focus. While the plot flowed smoothly (albeit slooowwwlly...), I didn't feel as connected to Deuce as I would have liked. And it really bothered me that I didn't; she's a strong fighter, loyal, and has a no-nonsense kind of attitude so why didn't I...like her? And then it hit me...she's a little too perfect. I'm not saying that she didn't make some really big mistakes in the story because she did, it's just that...as a character, she feels too flat, too good, too one-dimensional, too heroic. Sometimes I felt like Deuce's thought process was too mature:

"Whether there was any truth to it or not, I accepted that flaw in human nature. Topside or down below, they always needed someone to blame..." 

or

"...it broke my heart into a thousand pieces. But it wasn't time to be angry; I couldn't focus on how his behavior made me feel. I had to recall that self-doubt sliced at him like hidden knives."

I'm not saying it isn't a good idea to go through this type of thought process because it is, but sometimes it felt like I was listening to a therapist talk--not a 16 year old girl. Granted I haven't lived Deuce's life but all this self-regulating-I-know-everything behavior just doesn't fit right.

Because the focus of the story presents society in an emerging new world, I understand why Aguirre's writing is so plot-driven. I do think there could have been more "show-not-tell" scenes that might have picked up the pacing of the story. Outpost seemed to go on and on without much happening (at least to me) until close to the end. (Then my heart started pounding. Finally!) I guess for an apocalyptic world, I tend to expect more edge-of-my-seat reading.

However, I do find the concept of the story fascinating and can make for some enlightening discussion material. And it's really because of that, that I give this 3.5/4 stars. I do think Aguirre has very nice descriptive writing. But what I am most happy about was the romance between Deuce and Fade! Sheesh, I'm such a sucker for romance. I do look forward to Horde (Book #3) but I might not be as fanatical about it as some other reads.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

False Memory: Not very convincing...

False Memory
By Dan Krokos
Hardcover, 327 pages
Hyperion Books, August 2012

Genre: Sci/Fi, Thriller

Rated to Read: 2 stars on Goodreads.

Summary: Miranda wakes up alone on a park bench with no memory. In her panic, she releases a mysterious energy that incites pure terror in everyone around her. Except Peter, a boy who isn’t at all surprised by Miranda’s shocking ability.


Left with no choice but to trust this stranger, Miranda discovers she was trained to be a weapon and is part of an elite force of genetically-altered teens who possess flawless combat skills and powers strong enough to destroy a city. But adjusting to her old life isn’t easy—especially with Noah, the boyfriend she can’t remember loving.

Then Miranda uncovers a dark truth that sets her team on the run. Suddenly her past doesn’t seem to matter... when there may not be a future.

Dan Krokos’ debut is a tour-de-force of non-stop action that will leave readers begging for the next book in this bold and powerful new series.


Review: Oh! How I wanted to LOVE this. I was certainly impressed by Krokos' Q & A on the fabulous blog: the midnight garden. And quite honestly, it was this Q & A post that compelled me to check out his book in the first place. (He also makes some pretty insightful comments on author-reviewer relationships.)

So you see...I was so ready to love this.

It really pains me to say I don't. Right off the bat, I knew I was heading into rocky territory. The first few scenes didn't fit very well with what I expected of an amnesiac: a girl finds herself without any memory and she calmly tells a mall cop "Hello. I lost my memory. I was wondering if you could help." If I was in her shoes, I think I would probably appear frantic, confused, and more anxious about what was happening to me. Haven't you ever walked somewhere, like to the pantry to get something but then when you get there, you've forgotten why you were there in the first place? Well, sadly that happens to me A LOT. And I always feel out of sorts afterwards trying to remember. So it made me think: what if you lost ALL your memories? Wouldn't you feel a little more...unrestrained? Wouldn't you be scared? And in Miranda's case, wouldn't you expect her to manifest those fear waves immediately?

Then later on, I felt that some parts of the story seemed off: when Miranda meets Peter, it feels weird that there is so much drama and mystery of how he knows her. Why was he acting as if it was some kind of game to him? And if you just met a stranger, would you eat his mango chicken? uh. gross. And for someone who is supposedly a top notch weapon, why does Miranda make so many mistakes--like forgetting to grab the gun when she fights Grace?  I also completely missed the point of Miranda feeling like kissing these 2 boys all the time; she kisses one and then she immediately wants to kiss the other. If I had a better sense of her, I think I would have understood her motivations better. But the part that bothered me the most was that the Roses were created to cause destruction--just because. Very little light is shed on the creator's motivation for making them--aside from them being "mad scientists." I think that's an easy explanation but not a compelling one; I wished there was more background to the story to make it believable.


I do think the concept for the story is interesting: teenagers used as weapons, with amnesia as a side effect, and I admire Krokos's challenge for writing a female perspective. It seems like it's received good reviews so you might like it. But for me, I found the story to be choppy and flat in places. I would have appreciated more character development in such a plot-driven story. Unfortunately, I lost interest in the characters and plot by by the last 1/3 of the book, skimming and skipping to the end.



This marks Book 12 in the 2012 Debut Author Challengehosted by the Story Siren.
Challenge completed!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Under the Never Sky: Perry, I want you...

Under the Never Sky
By Veronica Rossi
Hardcover, 376 pages
HarperCollins, January 2012

Genre: Sci/Fi, Dystopia, Paranormal Romance
Rated to Read: 5 Plus Plus Stars on Goodreads. Your shelf needs this.

Summary: Since she'd been on the outside, she'd survived an Aether storm, she'd had a knife held to her throat, and she'd seen men murdered. This was worse.*

Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland - known as The Death Shop - are slim. If the cannibals don't get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She's been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He's wild - a savage - and her only hope of staying alive.

A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile - everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria's help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky.


Review: Finally. It's happened. Book after book, I'd been waiting for that ONE close-to-perfect story of 2 polar opposites: characters who hate each other--then grow to love. And while there have been some really great stories out there like Angelfall and Legend which share a similar element, I wanted something more: I wanted to feel more of their hate at the onset. (Of course, what you feel is completely subjective so that's not to say the other stories can't produce the same feeling. It's just that this one worked better for me.)

Having been raised on the inside of a metal dome (pod), Aria's life basically consists of visits to the Realms through her smarteye. The Realms are a multi-sensory, multi-dimensional place accessible through your brain. Think of it like the Matrix. But when Aria loses contact with her mother (who is a geneticist/scientist on a secret mission), she is determined to find out the cause. Her plan? Hang out with the son of the man in charge of the mission by sneaking into an empty section of the pod. Unfortunately, not the best plan for her as she ends up exiled to the outside world.

A world she has only heard stories about. "A world of nevers under a never sky." A place controlled by the Aether storms: a swirl of colorful clouds that strike fire on the ground. A place governed by Savages: tribes that survive together. Here, Aria must learn to survive or die.

First, I hope I haven't divulged too much. The beginning was a bit confusing so I hoped to give you a base to start from. And even as I was intrigued by this "new world," my interest really didn't pick up until about 100 pages in...right when Aria and Perry meet up. But then. Oh boy, did things start to get really interesting...

What I loved most about this story was Aria and Perry's relationship: their misconceptions and disgust for each other. It was raw hatred. Which made it all the more exciting and fulfilling to discover how, when, and why those feelings changed. And why they need each other even more now. Aria was especially an interesting character to me; I really enjoyed her sarcasm, optimism--even in light of dire situations, kindness, sacrifice, and naivety.  Oh! and how Perry rivals all the other male leads! He is both ruthless and gentle, loyal, and sensitive.

The other parts I loved were how so many ideas were woven so neatly into this complex world: the idea of nature being a catalyst for genetic change (our "senses" growing stronger), genetic modifications, and how a simulated reality can alter our nature. By the way, the Aether storms aren't fully explained--which I didn't have too much of a problem with...I assume it's an act of nature. But then again, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's the result of a nuclear bomb or something. So, yeah...I guess Rossi could have explained its origin better as well as how it contributed to the genetic mutations. 

Overall though, Rossi must have read my mind. For me, this book had all the right elements that made it one of the best stories I've read so far this year. I do still like the UK edition better *sigh* (I need this cover.) and the tag line makes better sense, too. The only bummer about reading this so late in the year (sadly, I had to wait that long for its library arrival) is that I missed all of her book signings! If I had only known...but at least now I won't have to wait so long for #2!



This marks Book 11 in the 2012 Debut Author Challengehosted by the Story Siren.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Graceling: A case of commitment...

Graceling
By Kristin Cashore
Hardcover, 471 pages
Harcourt Books, October 2008

Genre: Fantasy
Rated to Read: 2 Stars on Goodreads

Summary: In a world where people born with an extreme skill - called a Grace - are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him.

When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.

She never expects to become Po's friend.

She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace - or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away...a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.


Review: Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I thought the story would center on the adventures of a female "James Bond." Instead, all I got was a bad taste in my mouth. It's not that Graceling was so poorly written: I actually found the writing style and world building nicely done. It's just that...I think I was lied to.

First, Cashore refers to Graceling as growing "from her daydreams about a girl who possesses extrodinary powers-and who forms a friendship with a boy with whom she is insurmountably incompatible." So imagine my surprise when Grace meets Po (the insurmountably incompatible guy) and I end up waiting...and waiting...for the big "reveal" only to find out their incompatibility is due to her being a fighter and him being aware of his surroundings. Now how exactly is that insurmountably incompatible? See...incompatible would be an angel hater saving an angel (like Angelfall). Or a demon falling in love with an angel (like Daughter of Smoke and Bone).

Second, there's the problem of Katsa. Obviously, this girl is carrying around some childhood baggage because she's got some major anger management issues. In one scene she "swung at (Po's) jaw with the side of her hand" bruising his jaw because she didn't like what he was saying about King Randa's hold over her. Whhhaat?! In another, she refuses to understand Po's reason for keeping his Grace a secret. Is she really that clueless? Of course, she eventually comes to her senses and end up in his arms.

Which comes to my second point: a lover or a husband? While Katsa has her own view on what these two definitions mean: freedom or imprisonment, what it really boils down to is commitment. There's just something that doesn't feel right with Katsa and Po's relationship. Basically, she wants to be with Po but without being tied to him and all it requires..."For once she became his wife, she would be his wife forever. Her freedom would not be her own." and "How will you feel if I'm forever leaving? If one day I give myself to you and the next I take myself away--with no promises to return?" It just seems to me that if you are in a relationship (married or not), there should be a certain level of commitment: loyalty, sacrifice...If the tables were turned and Katsa were a man, he most certainly would be considered a player.

My biggest disappoint is that the messages of feminism are poorly characterized in Katsa. Does Katsa have to behave like a stereotypical man (or feminist) in order to further the feminist movement? If a man hit a woman or didn't commit to a relationship, would we honor him for using his manhood? So why should it be okay for Katsa to behave this way? That's not what feminism is about: it's about embracing womanhood and striving for equity between the sexes. 

Of course, there were also some minor character/plot development issues like: Katsa finding out that her grace is not actually in killing but in survival (which doesn't really make sense because how then is she able to inflict accurate pain on someone else when she's not being threatened?); or how Princess Bitterblue has the clarity of an adult when she's really only ten; or why the urgency to protect Bitterblue from her father (why she was so important to the King; if she died, then what? what's the consequence?); or why King Leck decided now (and not before) to spread his power across the kingdoms.

Overall, this was a desperately painful read but I was determined to finish...why? maybe I thought there was some redeeming grace at the end. But sadly, the entire time, I just begged it to be over.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Ghost and the Goth Trilogy: Don't Judge a Book by its Cover


I meant to solely (Oh, isn't that punny?) review Body & Soul, the last and final book in the series but my love for this series forces me to share the book love.

The Ghost and the Goth. By Stacey Kade. Hardcover, 281 pages. June 2010, Hyperion Books 
First we have The Ghost and the Goth, or in this instance, a case of "Don't Judge a Book by its Cover." Because you have to admit, the cover looks like a repeat of "Sweet Valley High." But the story sounded interesting (a newly dead cheerleader "Alona' who befriends a ghost-talking social outcast 'Will') even if it did seem cliche.

The Gist: After the first few pages, I almost put the book down. There were the typical stereotypes and I thought, "Oh, Great. What have I gotten myself into." But not to fear! The story evolves quite nicely and changes into a deeper story about unlikely friendships. It's a bit predictable but the dialogue and humor of the dual POVs kept me thoroughly entertained. Read the full review here.

Queen of the Dead. By Stacey Kade. Hardcover, Hyperion, May 2011. 

Next we have Queen of the Dead: Part 2 of the trilogy. Again...I somewhat cringe at this cover: did we have to make will's hair so...flat and goth nerdy? In this one, Alona and Will's friendship grows as they try to work and use Will's power for good. But Will meets another ghost talker and things get a little more complicated.

The Gist: Kade has a good thing going with this series. I wasn't planning on liking it as much as I do. The dialogue of the two characters flow very well with humor and sarcasm. I've laughed and laughed and laughed. And I love the "He said, She said" element of the story. The plot begins to get a little more twisty and ends on a very complicated note. Read my full review here.

Body and Soul. By Stacey Kade. Hardcover, 316 pages. Hyperion , May 2012. 

Which brings us to the last installment of the series: Body & Soul. I guess third time's the charm because they finally did something right with the cover! In this one, Alona is stuck in the body of Will's friend Lily. As they try to make sense of this situation, things get complicated when another ghost wants a turn in Alona/Lily/Ally's body.

My Review: This series has definitely found its place on my "books I need to own" shelf. As soon as I read the first page, I was hooked. Kade has this way of writing that is not only catchy and witty but natural-as if each character him/herself is telling me his/her side of the story. And how does she come up with all those lines?!

I really grew to love Will and Alona. They have both matured and become more selfless and caring. You can really feel their longing for this relationship to work out. And when this other ghost complicates things, I couldn't help but hope for that happy ending.

In the end, I was very happy. I was actually surprised by how well everything in the story seemed to work out. I still shed a tear or two when I said good-bye to Alona and Will. I had some pretty good times with those two. I can't wait for Kade's next series: The Rules. Also seen on Goodreads. (Content Advisory: some language.)