Divergent, by Veronica Roth

DivergentThis is a book that I almost read based on glowing reviews from friends when it came out, but then didn’t read based on some serious hate coming from another friend and a pile of other books to read. I’ve liked my fair share of YA dystopias, but I’ve also been extremely disappointed by others, so I wasn’t too concerned about giving this one a pass.

But then my book club picked it to read, and so I girded my reading loins for what would surely be a pretty bad book. And then I read the dang thing every spare second I had, because holy cow.

I will state up front that like many of those who dislike this book, I tend to disagree with the basic premise, which is that society has divided itself into five factions based on behavioral traits — one each for honesty, selflessness, thirst for knowledge, and kindness, and one for the incredibly nebulous notion of dauntlessness, which in practice has a mixture of daredevil-ness, bravery, and aggression that just doesn’t lend itself to an easy definition. Just picking aggression would probably have done wonders for making sense, but to Roth’s credit she uses the uncertainty in definition as a plot point, so… okay, fine.

The plot part is pretty standard — teen does not fit within boundaries of rigidly defined society, teen attempts to shrink self to fit boundaries, teen instead expands self and explodes society (sometimes literally). Nothing really new there.

But it’s the way that Roth tells the story that I find fascinating. The first person narration that bothers so many people is something I really appreciate because it keeps the story contained and lets us find out what the heck is going on right along with our narrator. And I really liked said narrator, Tris, because she’s a smart and resourceful girl who has to make a lot of tough decisions and who falls in love with just one boy at a time, thank you.

And the story builds really well, I think. It starts small, with the testing and the Divergence and the choosing, then goes into learning a lot about this strange Dauntless group, and then becomes about this big inter-faction schism and impending war. There were few if any dull moments in the book, and you probably could have kept time by my thumb tapping over to the next page on my Kindle.

If I had had the next two books available for me to read immediately after finishing this one, you can bet that I would have read them already, because even just the short preview at the end of the book I had had me clamoring for more. However, I did not, and it turns out that a little bit of absence from this book does not make the heart grow fonder. I still want to read the books, but the urgency is much less when there are newer and shinier books to occupy my time. Maybe after I see the movie (because I very much want to see the movie), I will feel compelled to devour the rest of the series?

Recommendation: Definitely worth a read, but if you’re not feeling it after the first few chapters, you should go ahead and put it down.

Rating: 9/10

V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore

…Interesting. That’s how I would describe this book. I love the movie version, which I’ve watched at least once a year (on Guy Fawkes Night, natch) for the past several years, and this year someone reminded me that it was, you know, a graphic novel first, and maybe I should read it? Yes, maybe I should. So I requested it from the library, and it took forever to arrive, and then I renewed it a couple of times, and then finally I says to myself, “Self, you’ve gotta just read this thing. Go.” So I did. It took a while, largely because I started a job in the middle of it and I’m still working out how to read print books (I listen to audiobooks at work) on my new schedule. But I read it and it was interesting.

The story is this: There’s a dude, and he’s called V, and he dresses like Guy Fawkes, and he blows some stuff up, and you’re like, cool. He is blowing stuff up because he lives in a fascist state run by basically Big Brother, with help from a computer, so we’ve got some good dystopian tropes in there. At some point, he saves a girl called Evey from some police-type people who are going to do terrible things to her, and she sort of becomes his apprentice. Also, the fascist state does not like V and is hunting him down, and slowly learning his backstory (which is kind of nuts) in the process.

The book is actually quite different from the movie β€” and this necessarily is how I have to approach this review β€” with more creepiness in V’s backstory and seedier government officials, and actually much less blowing stuff up, which is disappointing but understandable for the medium. I quite liked all of the extra things I learned about Larkhill, where V was imprisoned, because it made V make more sense, but much of the stuff I learned about the government officials (they’re corrupt! promiscuous! ne’er-do-wells!) was rather tedious. More creepy smiling masked people, please!

All in all, I did like the novel, but it won’t top my yearly dose of explodey things any time soon.

Recommendation: Definitely read it if you’ve seen the movie, or if you generally like dystopia and intrigue in pictorial form.

Rating: 8/10
(A to Z Challenge)

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Hmm. I almost don’t want to talk about why I didn’t quite like this novel, because it might cause the same problem to others who have never read it. But at the same time, if someone is in the same boat I was…

Okay, so. Somehow, going into this novel, all I really knew about it was that it was a dystopian novel with an underlying secret akin to that of The Unit, which I loved. So I was expecting The Unit. This was a problem.

There is that plot component, yes, but it is barely hinted at throughout the book until all of that tension culminates in an interesting but very exposition-y confrontation.

What the book is actually about is friendships and other relationships β€” how they can get ridiculous and necessary when they last a long time, how it is difficult to break into new circles, how friends become much nicer after the passage of many years apart. The main setting is a boarding school, which of course intensifies these relationships, and even more so in light of the twist dystopia.

But unfortunately for me, I thought the twist would be untwisted far earlier, and spent too much time waiting for that. And then when I finally gave up on that and started reading the story for what it was, that’s when the twist came in, all “surprising” and whatnot and it was a little too much.

I think this is a book I’ll have to read again in the future to better appreciate it.

Recommendation: For people who understand (or want to better understand) the intricacies of friendships, and don’t mind a little dystopia along with it.

Rating: 7/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Library Queue
Park Benches & Bookends
At Home With Books
things mean a lot

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist

Dudes. This was a really good book. I love me a dystopian novel, and I thought this one was especially effective because I could really, definitely see it happening. The Hunger Games? Eh, maybe. Shades of Grey? Definitely not. The Handmaid’s Tale, which this reminded me strongly of? Not really. This? Oh, I could totally see this.

The “this” I’m talking about is a world where the people we love are no longer dying for stupid reasons like decades-long organ transplant waiting lists… because the older, procreatively-challenged members of society are ready and mostly willing to fork over a kidney, or a cornea, or an auditory bone, or a liver, or a heart whenever there isn’t anyone else around to do it.

See, over in that Scandinavia area (if not everywhere), the population is divided into “needed” people β€” parents, schoolteachers, nurses β€” and “dispensable” people, with no one to take care of. These dispensable people are taken away at a ripe old age (50 for ladies; 60 for gents, who can sow their seeds a bit longer) to live in one of the titular Units, where they live wonderful lives of comfort and ease, with no need to earn money or cook for themselves or do anything at all that they don’t want to, except, you know, participate in medical and psychological experiments and donate an organ here or there until it’s time to donate a major organ.

Our dispensable friend is Dorrit, who didn’t try terribly hard to become needed and is rather enjoying her time in the Unit. We follow along as she has a relatively easy time of things, makes friends, makes a “friend,” and then makes a baby, which sort of throws everything out of whack both in the Unit and in Dorrit’s life. And boy, do things get interesting from there.

It’s not ever terribly exciting… the story is fairly slow-paced and the focus is really on the emotions of the people within the Unit, which are quite up and down, as one might imagine. And Holmqvist does a great job of this. She also does an excellent job portraying the whole Unit system as a pretty good idea, really, if not a very easily sustainable one.

There is a whole boatload of intriguing in this novel, and I may have to read it again at some point to really appreciate what Holmqvist has done and to look again at the interactions between the characters in a new light.

Recommendation: Grab it if you like a good dystopian novel or a good psychology-driven narrative.

Rating: 9/10
(Orbis Terrarum: Sweden, A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Reading matters
Jules’ Book Reviews
At Home With Books

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

So… remember when I read Catching Fire and I thought it was pretty crappy but I was willing to let the third book decide my feelings and I said please for the love of goodness count me out of the love story?

Well. I have now read the third book. And I am just not pleased.

I will grant that it is, like the others, a quick, engaging read. I really wanted to know what was going to happen to these kids, even if I didn’t care about the kids themselves so much. And there’s definitely a lot more of the fun action-y goodness of the first novel than there was in the second. So these are good things.

But, I was amazed at how much I didn’t care about the characters. I cared about the situations they were in, sure, but you could have swapped a character here and there and I would have cared about those situations the same amount. And even then, sometimes a situation would get me all interested and then it would be incredibly anticlimactic and I felt a little cheated. Specifically, there is a point when one character gives some very explicit instructions to another character, which would have been very interesting if said instructions had been followed, but they were not, and yet nothing comes of it. Nowhere do we find out why the instructions might have been given; nowhere do we find out even why they weren’t followed. Nothing. I felt like I did with those darn spiders from The Name of the Wind, only repeated several times in a much shorter book.

Luckily, that love story business that I hated so darn much takes a bit of a vacation in this book β€” there’s some appropriate worrying at the beginning, but then it tapers off β€” except that luckily turns into “annoyingly” because there is a really stupid reason that the love story falls apart. But then, definitely annoyingly, the love story comes back at the end, albeit in a much more depressing form.

And then there is an epilogue, and you know how I feel about epilogues (if you don’t: I despise them). Though I will admit that this is one of the more unexpected epilogues of those that I have read, and therefore I have a little bit of respect for it. A little.

All in all, book and series? Meh.

Recommendation: Read this if you’ve read the other two. If you’ve only read the first, just live with that, you’ll be happier. If you’ve not read any, well, you should of course start with the first one. If you want to. I am very ambivalent about this series.

Rating: 6/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Chrisbookarama
At Home With Books
Persnickety Snark
Jules’ Book Reviews
books i done read
…and all of their respective brothers.

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Giver, by Lois Lowry

I first read this book in eighth grade, and I recall absolutely adoring it. My favorite part was when we discussed it in class, and there were three different interpretations of the ending! I’m pretty sure this was the first book I’d ever read, or at least the first one I had discussed, where there were so many ways to think about it.

The weird thing about this book, which I have read many times since that first, is that every time I re-read it I like it less as a story, but I love it more as a book and as a commentary on society. I attended a library book club meeting about this book, and for all of those adults that seemed to be the consensus: a very interesting book, but not really well-liked. I think it helps to be 13 when you read it first, because all of the plot devices that become overplayed in another ten years of reading are brand new.

If you haven’t read it (if, say, you were in eighth grade before the mid-90s!), this is a pretty simplistic book about a dystopian future world. In this world, the focus is sameness: all babies born in the same year are considered exactly the same age and each age level wears the same clothing and hair styles and follows the same rules. The exceptions to sameness are in the form of aptitudes and interests, with children performing volunteer work at different jobs and eventually being assigned to a job that seems to fit them, whether that’s Nurturer (taking care of babies), Recreation Director, Laborer, or Birthmother (making babies, but probably not the fun way). However, at this year’s job-assigning ceremony, Jonas gets picked for a job that is very different from those: Receiver of Memories. As we read about Jonas’s job, the delightful, organized world he lives in starts to fall apart, as dystopias are wont to do.

I really like that this story is low-key β€” there’s a brief period of hurriedness, but the plot generally moves along slowly. It’s much more like The Long Tomorrow than, say, The Hunger Games. Good times.

Rating: 8/10 (inflated for sentimental value, probably)
(Flashback Challenge)

See also:
[your link here]

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

So, remember when I read The Hunger Games and I thought it was an okay read but I wasn’t thrilled and I said count me out of the love story? Well, certain people convinced me that the sequel wasn’t really a love story, regardless of Teams Peeta and Gale, and so I read the sequel. In an evening. Collins can really write an engaging plot line.

But maybe not a good one, as I got to the end and was like, “Um, what? What? What??? No freaking way!” with a grumpy look on my face.

I told my Amy earlier that this book suffers from serious Book Two of a Trilogy Syndrome, in which the author has come up with a good beginning, and also a good (one hopes) end, but can’t really figure out how to connect the two and thus crams too many things into the middle book. In this case, the middle book covers the span of an entire year, from shortly after the end of Katniss’s Hunger Games and straight through the next year’s Games. Because of this, there’s necessarily a lot of jumping around β€” Katniss and Peeta prepare for the Victory Tour, Katniss gets the lives of her family and friends threatened, they start the tour in District 11, some stuff of importance happens in a couple other districts, the Victory Tour is over, more threats, vague notions of rebellion/escape… you get the idea. It’s not very well connected and I personally felt almost more interested in what was happening in the parts that got glossed over than the parts that were written in detail, which is not good.

And the next Hunger Games… there seemed to be way too much time spent on it for how important it really is to the story, especially after finding out what happens in the end. I think that Collins could have left out some of that boring action and thrown in some more of the rebellion and intrigue that she ignored in the beginning, and I would have been much happier.

Since I’ve now read the first two books, I’ll probably read the third just for the closure, but I wouldn’t really recommend reading the second one right now. If the third one is awesome, I’ll let you know it’s safe to read this one. πŸ™‚

Rating: 6/10
(A to Z Challenge)

See also:
Jules’ Book Reviews
book-a-rama
The Bluestocking Society
dreadlock girl
Midnight Book Girl
books i done read

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde

We all know I love Jasper Fforde, the creator of the lovely Thursday Next and Nursery Crime series. He writes novels that are ridiculous in just the right range to be delightful and crams in literary and cultural references in places that I did not know such references could exist. If you’ve read and liked his other novels, go read this one. You don’t need any convincing. If you haven’t read his other novels, a) what are you waiting for and b) you are so missing out.

Shades of Grey is the first in a new series with the same name β€” this one is officially subtitled The Road to High Saffron. In it we meet our hero, Eddie Russett, a “red” who is being sent out to East Carmine to conduct a chair census because he “needs humility,” at least according to the badge he’s required to wear.

I know, I know, you’re like, “Um, a red? A chair census? Wearing a badge that says ‘needs humility’?” And it’s really hard to explain without just quoting the entire book, so go read it! But basically, Fforde has created a world in which people are mostly color-blind β€” some can see red (and are thus called Reds and get last names that are shades of red), some can see blue, some can see yellow, and some can see combinations of two, but no one can see all three, or even 100 percent of one. And of course some can see so little that they are simply called Greys. As to the chair census, well, this world is governed by about a billionty-six rules (er, Rules) that proscribe everything from the clothes one should wear while travelling to the number of chairs that should be available in a given area (1.8 per person, of course). And when certain Rules are broken, Rule-breakers get to wear a little badge that lets the world know what they’ve done. Wonderful!

Anyway, back to Eddie β€” he never gets his chair census done because as soon as he arrives in East Carmine, he starts to think weird things might be going on and to ask a lot of questions that let him know that, yes, really weird things are going on. Like, how did his new housemaid, Jane, beat him and his father from Vermillion to East Carmine when they took the train and she didn’t? How did the town Swatchman (read: doctor) manage to fatally mis-diagnose himself, or did he? Are wheelbarrows made of bronze?

So, yes, it’s all insane, but entertainingly so. Eddie is a great character who goes from uptight Rule-respecter (if not -follower) to slightly less uptight Rule-questioner to a man eaten by a yateveo tree, and Jane is just plain awesome with her threats of violence and cynical attitude (and has a cute retroussΓ© nose), and I can’t wait to see what Fforde has up his sleeve for the next two books.

Rating: 9/10
(A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Shelf Monkey

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness

I’m not sure what I want to say about this book. Right after I finished it (in practically one sitting), I was like, “That was pretty darn good,” but now I’m more like, “Eh, that was all right, I guess.” I think it’s telling that I have the book right next to me while I’m writing this because I am not entirely sure I could tell you what happened in the book without looking some of it up.

But! What happens is that we’re on another planet, sometime in the future, and we’re following along with the last boy in Prentisstown, Todd Hewitt. He’s the last boy because a Noise germ wiped out the female population of the planet a while back and also made it possible for all of the men to hear each other’s thoughts, all the time, no filters, no way to stop yourself from giving up your thoughts to everyone else.

Todd is just a month away from his 13th birthday, when he will finally become a man like everyone else in Prentisstown, when he stumbles across a patch of quiet out in the swamp. A patch of quiet that moves, even. By the time he gets home, the whole town knows what he’s found, and his adoptive parents are shooing him out the door with a rucksack, map, and instructions to go back to the swamp and run.

I liked how Ness worked the idea of information overload into his story… until he made it incredibly explicit. And I was really intrigued by the backstory to Prentisstown, especially after I found out there were other towns on the planet and that Todd clearly didn’t know anything about the reality of Prentisstown, but the reveals came way too late in the story, especially the one from Todd himself which should have made, I think, at least one of his actions a lot different. And the whole last fight/battle/argument/something scene between Todd and the church leader made approximately zero sense to me, probably mostly because just reading the descriptions of the fighting was taking up all of my attention. Finally, I was so close to loving the ending, which was so close to being ambiguous and enticing me to read the sequel, but then someone showed up and ruined it all for me.

So I guess, in the end, I only just liked this book. It was certainly entertaining, and it had a good premise to it, but I was just not a fan of Ness’s execution of said premise. As with The Hunger Games, I think I’m going to wait for a few more reviews of the sequel before I decide if it’s worth my time.

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2008, A to Z Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

See also:
Library Queue
Medieval Bookworm
Persnickety Snark
books i done read
things mean a lot
Blogging for a Good Book

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins (4 August)

What with the sequel coming out soon, I figured I ought to read this before I got ridiculously spoiled for it. But I guess I probably wouldn’t have, anyway, since the whole novel is fairly predictable.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, I suppose, and Collins does a good job of taking the predictable things and sort of letting them happen and moving on quickly. Except for the love story, which I disliked immensely β€” not this one in particular, just that there was a love story at all β€” and if that’s what the sequel’s all about, you can count me out right now. Seriously.

For those who have not hopped on this particular bandwagon, here’s the deal: Katniss Everdeen lives in a world where The Man keeps his subjects down by a) dividing them into districts with no interaction between them and b) forcing two teenagers from each district to compete every year in the eponymous tournament. The last person standing wins and gets to live a life of relative luxury (not hard in the slums these districts are) for ever and earns some luxury for his/her district for the year. When Katniss’s little sister gets her name picked out of the hopper, Katniss quickly volunteers to go in her place, even though Katniss certainly would not have wanted to go otherwise. She and her new rival, Peeta, go off to the Capitol and fight to the death in a specially tricked-out arena full of woods and rivers but also fireballs and mutated wasps.

I quite liked the dystopian premise here for its cruel ingenuity. The districts have to give up two children each year to fight, but even if one wins the other must lose, so there’s only a bittersweet joy if there is a winner. Good stuff. And the actual battling in the arena was really well done.

For all I say about predictability, there are a couple of things that happened in the beginning of the novel that made me go, “Oh, red flag, that’s important later, yes it is,” but then they didn’t pay off AT ALL in the end. I don’t know if they’ll be important in the next book or what, but they were really frustrating in this one.

Rating: 8/10