Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Divergent: A Review

Hey strangers! Again, it's been too long, but! I have a great book for you all to check out.

If you can recall, I became quite a fan of Suzanne Collin's Hunger Games series. After finishing Mockingjay, I was devastated. Here, I had found this fantastic series, and then bam! - it's over. What will I read now?

Cue Veronica Roth, sweeping in to save the day! I can't say I just happened upon this book, that would be a straight-up lie. I consulted (a new favorite website of mine) and the majority of people who read The Hunger Games raved about how great of a read it was, so I had to check it out.

As I say with all of my reviews: there will be a few spoilers below this line. Read with caution!

Art by
The protagonist of the story is Beatrice, a girl of sixteen. In this Dystopia, there are five different factions. While they are physically different places, they are more about different ways of life. It was decided that the main cause of war and conflict was conflicting virtues. Therefore, each faction is split up according to what virtue the people who live there honor the most. Abnegations, where our hero is born and raised, value selflessness and simplicity, Candors value honesty, Erudites value knowlege, Amity values friendliness and love for everyone, and finally the Dauntless, who value bravery.

Abnegation symbol
In order to help each person figure out which faction they belong in, they must take an aptitude test around age 16/17. They are given a serum that puts them to sleep and runs a simulation of events in their minds. In these simulations, it is recorded how they interact and react to any of 5 situations. After the simulation is over, it is suppose to have ruled out all but one faction for each person.

This is where we find out Beatrice is different.

Instead of one, she has three factions for options. The result of this can mean only one thing: she is one of the revered and feared Divergent. While she doesn't know what this means, her test results are scrambled and she is told to tell no one. When it comes time to choose, her heart overrules her head, and she transfers to Dauntless.

She finds it both exhilarating and frightening at Dauntless headquarters, but works hard against how she was raised to make herself known in the community as a force to be reckoned with. Impressive, I must say, for a tiny 16 year old girl.

But at this time in history, politics are proving to be more of a factor in survival than anything else, and she must keep her wits about her to avoid attracting the wrong kind of attention. With the help of her handsome instructor, Four, she learns to shoot a gun, throw a knife, win a fist-fight, and keep her new-found Divergent abilities under the radar.

Love, tragedy, betrayal and war...when push comes to shove, what does she stand for? Pick up Divergent and I promise, you won't regret it! I give it five stars.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins didn't need a movie to make her books fly off the shelves. Not long after her break-out book "The Hunger Games" was released, Collins became a name familiar to all. If you hadn't read the book, you knew at least five people that had or were reading it.

I hate to say it, but this was the primary reason I stayed away from the series for so long. I'm not a fan of following hype, and this book seemed to have a huge following of young adult readers with much different tastes than I. Finally, after being persuaded by my brother and some coworkers, I gave in and bought the first book. I would have borrowed it from the library, but I wanted to be able to read it sometime this year (the reserved list is very long for all of Collins' books.)

Two chapters in, I was hooked. The imagery was fantastic, the character development detailed. Flashbacks or memories of any kind were very subtle and tastefully done. The plot was well thought out, and the outcome (I thought at least) was not expected.

If you haven't read this one, I suggest you stop reading at this point: there will be a few spoilers and I don't want to ruin one bit of the book for you.

First, let's explain "The Games":

The Hunger Games were established seventy-four years before at the start of this book. There was a great war in Panem (formerly known as the USA) between the producers (also known in the books as Districts) and the government (known here as The Capital.) There were thirteen districts, each in charge of making something for the Capital. For example: District 12 (Katniss' district) was in charge of coal mining, while District 7 was in charge of fishing. The Capital came out on top in the war, demolishing District 13 and created The Annual Hunger Games as a reminder to the districts: We are in charge: resistance is useless.

While the Hunger Games might seem like just a heartless ploy from the Capital to show the Districts who's in charge, it becomes clear that is not the games only function. While putting the Districts 'in their place,' it is also setting them against themselves. The Districts are all pretty far apart for a reason, and when the war broke out the Capital saw just how powerful the thirteen were together. After years of seeing one District's kids kill others' kids, it was enough to create a clear divide between them all.

Now, let's take a look at the main characters:

Fan art by 
Protagonist Katniss Everdeen is just sixteen when the story begins. She is the oldest of two and, while she has a mother, she clearly feels she cannot rely on her for much. She took to hunting years back to help feed her family. Her weapon of choice: a bow and arrow crafted by her father before he died in a mining incident. Being the great and protective sister she is, she volunteers to take her sister Prim's place when she is called in for The Games - unintentionally winning the hearts of not just her District, but of the Capital citizens as well.

Katniss is a very unusual lead character for several reasons. One, she is not made out to be overly attractive. She isn't described as ugly, but more just as a plain, short girl. She is also very tough. It was on her shoulders and no one else's that her family survived her father's death. While most female lead characters tend to be more girly and boy crazy, the idea of dresses and kissing is far from her mind. She is assertive, hot-headed, and very logical: my kind of woman.

Fan art by

Next, we have Gale. Gale has been Katniss' hunting partner for quite some time when we join the story. He is tall, statuesque, and stubborn. He has a much larger family than Katniss, and is also the breadwinner of his bunch. From the description we get from Katniss, you might think he was her older brother, and that all of his siblings were hers as well. Gale has one thing though that has always troubled her: a very rebellious heart. There are penalties for bad mouthing the Capital - the Capital has many, many ways of finding out if you have been doing so, and Gale does not usually trouble himself to keep quiet.

Fan art by

What becomes apparent pretty soon into the story is Gale's affection towards Katniss. In his ideal world, he and Katniss would just run away together and live out their days in peace. Katniss, for one reason or another, is confused when he brings this up. She tells him everything, so he should know she doesn't want that at all. She doesn't want to marry, have kids, or anything like that. She just wants to lay low and make sure her family doesn't starve.

Then we get to Haymich. Oh Haymich. The town drunkard. He is the only Victor (winner of The Games) District 12 has ever had, and our protagonist cannot imagine how he managed it. After the tributes are picked, Katniss and her fellow Tribute, Peeta, have to bully him into staying sober long enough to help them try to win. Inspired by their spunk, he agrees. He proves to be a valuable resource to them; especially Katniss as they seem to understand each other more than either could have imagined.

Fan art by thathapachick
Peeta is a man who seems to spring out of the clear blue for Katniss. He is a far back memory she cringes to remember. This memory is what gives us a clear glimpse at what kind of guy Peeta is. He may not be as statuesque as Gale, but he makes up for it with kindness, thoughtfulness, and tact. He is very simple in his thoughts, which is incredibly hard for Katniss to understand.

He doesn't play games, and he doesn't like tricking people. Of course, he is forced into a scenario where you play games or die, and he is obviously out of place. When you add to all of this his long-standing crush on Katniss, playing the Game becomes a whole other story, where he either tries to save her, or save himself. He never fails to show throughout the book his struggle to hang on to what little humanity there is in the Game, and it is his spirit and his wisdom that begins to fire the flames of a revolution.

Fan art by kmurphy

While there are several other characters I could go on and on about, this review is getting very long. So let's talk (finally) about my personal favorite: Cinna. Cinna is Katniss' designer for the Games. He is new to the team, and clearly less insane than other designers in 'the show.' He has a touch of humanity that doesn't seem to exist elsewhere in the Capital. While other designers vie to make their tributes wild and eye-catching to the point of extravagant tackiness. Cinna, on the other hand, doesn't seek to make a name for himself. Rather, he does everything in his power to make "The Girl on Fire" memorable.

I would definitely rate The Hunger Games 5 stars. This is a very powerful beginning of a very moving series. It is not meant for the squeamish or for younger children that might not be able to understand the bigger picture. If you are looking for a light read with a happy ending, this book is not for you. If you are looking for a page turner that will leave you on the edge of your seat (or sofa) for more than half of the story, be ready to invest in the next two books because you won't be able to wait another minute to find out what happens next.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Updates (A.K.A. I'm very behind)

Hey guys! It's been awhile...

As some might have guessed, my reading list was a bit ambitious. I don't think it was overly ambitious in numbers, but just titles. From here on out, I'm not going to predetermine what books I will read for the month and just read whatever finds its way into my hands during the months to come.

Since my last post, I have read "Crossed" by Ally Condie, given up (for now) on "The Flanders Panel," and am almost finished with "Seriously...I'm Kidding" by Ellen DeGeneres. I have been working on my review for  "The Hunger Games" as well, but am finding it very difficult to keep short. Once I've written it so you don't have to scroll down so far, I will have it posted.

I want to go a bit more into detail about one of these notes: I have given up on "The Flanders Panel." I have a few witnesses that can attest, I did try. I brought the book around with me to read in my free time (waiting for a lift, waiting for someone to join me at a restaurant, sitting by the pool...) and I just had the hardest time getting into it. If it wasn't the characters themselves it was the huge blocks of text. I might be being picky, but one page should not equal one paragraph. So, I decided I needed to just put that away for now, and maybe - one day - I can try again and something will be different.

Finally, since my last post I have gotten a promotion! As of September 4th I will be the county's newest Library Specialist! I am very excited for this new opportunity, but I will miss seeing my current coworkers on a regular basis.

Thank you, dear reader, for your patience. I will try not to disappoint you again!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A is for Alibi: A Review

Before starting this book, I had some doubts on whether I'd like it or not. The reason for most of those doubts came from some reviews I read on Goodreads, which varied from one star to five stars. There was one review in particular that caught my attention. A man said he read the book for a required class at law school, and claimed you couldn't tell the main character (Kinsey) was a woman until around halfway through the book. For something like that to go un-noted for so long in a book raised serious questions about the author's capabilities. Luckily for me, this was not the case.

The character Grafton crafted into Kinsey Millhone is a very unique one. She never states anything about herself other than the facts, but gives highly detailed and opinionated descriptions of everyone she encounters. She makes herself run around two miles every few days and not only is she not good at it, she absolutely hates it. She usually ends her runs with a beer or glass of whatever kind of wine. She has her own office and business (which seems to pay fairly well), yet she will be the first to tell you she is the cheapest person she knows. She would rather stay at a crummy hotel in a dangerous part of town than spend even twenty bucks more for a competent person to man the front desk.

Grafton's plot for this story was a good one, set up to be unexpected from the very beginning. Kinsey is on a case eight-years passed when the accused, Nikki, pays her to dig out the real culprit. Kinsey has her doubts, but starts the case nevertheless. What goes from grasping at straws soon turns to gasping for air as the true killer feels the ground beneath them shake.

What I loved about this book was the character descriptions and developments. People aren't split into good and bad, and Grafton does a great job of penning humanity into even the crudest character. While you see the rough edges, you see what made them that way as well. The situations in here are realistic, from the terrible running, to falling asleep and missing an appointment, to not being able to sneak quietly into a trash can. Another very pleasant surprise was an ending you honestly didn't see coming.

I can't really think of much I didn't like. Some of the detail was a bit overwhelming, such as the type of landscaping around every neighborhood and the chase scene, but I feel I can't fault someone for being too detailed (especially when it's a mystery starring a private investigator.) After finishing "A is for Alibi," I am very excited to move on to her next novel "B is for Burglar."

All-in-all, I would give this book four and a half stars.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Reading Updates

Greetings readers!

It has been awhile, and much to my dismay, I haven't finished reading all of the books on my list yet. I have overestimated my time and am now working harder on the list. I have cut a bit into several of the books, and wanted to give a little bit of an update as to what I think so far.

Hearts in Atlanta was the first one I started, and I am farther along here than in the others. I love Stephen King's format, and he's got me into a story I don't think I would be interested in had I just read a review. There are little nit-picky things I don't like, such as random peeks into Bobby's future and general awfulness on his mother's behalf, but other than that, I am anxious to see what happens next!

The Flanders Panel, I must admit, is a bit of a disappointment thus far. I am about halfway through the first chapter and struggle to continue on. Perhaps it is just the books I am accustom to reading, but the main female character is a bit full of herself. She seems like the type of woman who would sit lazily in her windowsill, blowing cigarette smoke smoothly from between her lips while gazing regally around the city thinking 'I'm the best thing that ever happened to this town.' While some might like the idea of a beautiful protagonist, I'd prefer (even if she was gorgeous) for her to think of herself as...average. So far, she is very unrelateable to me, and it is hindering my progress.

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is, by far, my favorite so far. It may not seem so as I am not as far into the story as I am with Hearts in Atlanta, but there is a good reason: the way this book was written is quite a bit more difficult to decipher. Another part hindering my progress is I am reading it on my phone, as I could not locate a copy of this book anywhere. Part of what I love about Memoirs is just the prologue. Often in tales like this one, there are references made in the book that you could not understand without reading a few other stories. So, they lay out the stories you need to know right there at the beginning. The one I am on right now is so outrageous and inventive I have forgotten numerous times that I haven't even reached the actual book yet! I would say more, but I would give away everything. I look forward to writing my review of this one.

I am about to break into A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton, but I have been reluctant for two reasons: fear of bad writing, and a weird fear of getting absolutely hooked. I have been pretty thorough looking through reviews of the books I'm reading, and from the sound of this one it is either love or hate. What gives me hope though is quite a few of the haters did give Grafton the benefit of this being her first novel, so perhaps the later ones are better...hopefully I won't have to wait that long!

Well, that's about enough typing for one night. I have a stack of books to get reading, and the stack is only getting bigger. Who knows? If the server for Diablo III keeps going down, I may make a good dent in it before the end of May!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Matched: A Review

I received this book as a Christmas gift from my sister-in-law and am ashamed to say I didn’t pick it up to read until recently due to work and general busy-ness. After not really reading a book for a long time, reading another book becomes more of a romantic thought. I wanted to read more, but I was worried I wouldn’t really like anything (which is ridiculous.) Matched was a great way to get back into the swing of things. 

Let me start by explaining a few things about this society: 

 • At one point in time, it was decided that society was too cluttered and disposed of all but one-hundred of songs, poetry, paintings…you name it. Shockingly people in this society know about it and are perfectly content with this.

 • This society knows how to read, but no one writes. They all take notes for school and read on their government issued electronic pads. Everyone gets one as soon as they start school, and everyone is in school until around age seventeen when they start going out for their careers. 

 • Food is given out by the government, and is for nutrition only: not taste. You get only what you absolutely need and nothing more. Portions are decided by your age, height, weight, and activity level.

 • Everyone is given pills to keep with them at all times: a blue, a green, and a red. You get each one after reaching a certain age. Blue is for an emergency situation where you have no food, green calms your nerves, and  red is not immediately explained in the book because no one the main character knows of has ever taken it.

 • When you are around seventeen, you become eligible to be Matched – meaning, the government can pair you up with someone to marry.No one has a say in the matter of picking a future spouse, and the vast majority of people who are Matched have never met their match before. They are Contracted to (married to) their Matches three years from then. Some people are chosen to be Singles and may date socially, but cannot be Contracted to a person, and cannot EVER have children. 

 • If you break a law and it is serious enough, they say you have committed an Infraction. This labels you as an anomaly (or criminal) for the rest of your life. If you have children, it marks them for life as aboriginals. They can never get married, and they will never have a chance at a good career. 

 • Finally, when a person turns eighty, they have what is called their Final Banquet. At this time, they see their family and friends one last time, eat their last meal – a meal of their choice, and receive a microchip with clips from their life (this last part is primarily for the surviving family members). By midnight, they have passed on.  

This series is about a girl named Cassia, just turned seventeen, on her way to her Matching Banquet. Cassia’s Match turns out a bit different. She is matched with her neighbor and dear friend Xander and, while this is almost unheard of, everyone involved seems delighted. Cassia adores Xander, and it becomes clear that Xander has always had his eyes on her. They live in the same neighborhood, which means that after they are Contracted they will likely get to live relatively close to their families. 

Things are going fantastically in this Dystopian world…until a mistake is made. The day after the Matching, Cassia goes to look at the microchip she received with information about Xander on it, and another face soon replaces his: that of her other friend, Ky. 

 Cassia is told by an official that a mistake had been made, for Ky is an aboriginal and can never be Matched to anyone. This mistake and newfound knowledge changes the way Cassia thinks about everything. From this point on, Cassia becomes more inquisitive about the way their society works. Why does Ky need to be punished for something his parents did? Are all the Matches made good ones? Is she really meant to be with Ky? 

When she listens to her heart, there is a resounding ‘Yes.’ 

 What I love about this book is that it is very different from every dystopian novel I’ve read thus far. The officials act friendly (for the most part) and even at the times Cassia has messed things up or things have been messed up, she’s been talked to like an equal. I think if there were to be a point in time where our entire lives were government run, I think they’d want us to at least think that we were equals to the officials. 

There were a few things that did peeve me. Every dystopian novel has a new set of rules that make up the new world, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt so bombarded with rules as I did with this one. Before I started truly reviewing the book I had to make a bullet-point list just so you could understand it! I believe this was the reason it was a bit hard to get into at first. The first five or so chapters seemed to be filled with rules and Cassia explaining them. I wondered if Matched was just a rule book and then Crossed would get into the plot. After everything was explained and we got to focus on the characters, it did become quite the page turner. 

 Over all, I give Matched 4 stars.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

April Reading List

Welcome back! After this, I am hoping the monthly reading list will be put out at the beginning of the month as opposed to the middle of it. This month started out strong, reading The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay, and Matched. It’s funny how with these books April seems to have a certain Dystopian theme to it.

Over the next few weeks I will put out a personal review of each of them, as well as respond to any questions that there may be about the books. I also intend on posting updates about the books I am currently reading. Let me introduce you to the rest of my April Reading List:

Hearts in Atlanta by Stephen King – this is the first King novel I have picked up and I am enjoying it immensely so far. Taking place in the 60’s, we follow the life of Bobby Garfield. Bobby starts out as a boy just turned eleven. His father passed away when he was three, and it has been just him and his mom since. Life is pretty normal until an old man named Ted moves into Bobby’s building. From then on, he will never view his life the same. What caught my eye was the cover: Anthony Hopkin’s face with a hand held out. Anthony Hopkins is one of my all-time favorite actors, and if he was involved with this story in any way, I don’t see how I could hate it.

Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg – recommended this book to me after I put in that I read – and loved – The Picture of Dorian Gray. They do seem a bit alike in the synopsis, but only slightly. In this story, the tragic hero happens upon a man who looks bafflingly like himself. After this encounter, he believes he is going mad as a long string of events unfold that he finds himself struggling to understand. Riveting thus far!

Crossed by Ally Condie – after reading Matched, I knew I was going to have to continue. Cassia is on a mission to find Ky and save him from war – and almost certain death. The pressing issue is: once she finds him, what will their next move be? Hide in the wilderness forever, or find a way to fight back and claim their lives (and love) as their own?

The Flanders Panel by Arturo PĂ©rez-Reverte – a painting about to be auctioned off becomes the center of a mystery when an inscription is found hidden in one of the corners. Even though two centuries have passed, will our hero, Julia, be able to solve the crime? This book has a hint of The Da Vinci Code, and I love it.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks – this zombie book takes a very different approach. Brooks is said to be fervently warning his readers of what happened ‘last time’ and warning us that, if the proper precautions aren’t taken, it could all happen again. (Dun-dun-dun!) In all seriousness though, I’ve never read a zombie book, and I’m pretty excited about this one.

A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton – Kinsley Millhone is a cop turned private investigator. Alone and unattached, she finds herself drawn to the most hopeless of cases. This is what draws her to the case of a desperate woman accused of killing her husband. Clearing her name won’t be easy, given the amount of time the woman had spent in jail already for the charge, but when another body turns up, Millhone may have found herself living a little too dangerously. I am hoping to love this series, as Sue Grafton has a great deal of books out there and I am pretty desperate for a good mystery series!

So there they are, the books on my April reading list. Hopefully I will be able to finish them all before May, but I have a feeling Hearts in Atlanta will probably carry over a month or two (it’s a long one – but worth it!) If you have any recommendations, I would love to hear them: May is fast approaching and another list will have to be compiled! What's on your reading list?

Happy reading!