Friday, December 31, 2010

Compare/Contrast Review: Hamlet by William Shakespeare and Ophelia by Lisa Klein

Hamlet (The New Folger Library Shakespeare)

Title: Hamlet

Author: William Shakespeare

Pages: 400 (Depending on edition and annotations)

Source: Personal library

Rating: 10/10

Challenges: Take Another Chance Challenge #8 - Real and Inspired

Title: Ophelia

Author: Lisa Klein

Pages: 328

Source: Personal library

Rating: 7/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge; Take Another Chance Challenge #8 - Real and Inspired

I'm taking a different approach to my usual reviews with these two. We all know Hamlet is a fabulous read, there's no denying that (Unless you're a hater), and I have some very definite opinions of the version that Klein presents in Ophelia. So, non-traditional, compare-and-contrast-type review it is!

Oh, and if you really want to read this book, I'd suggest not reading this review. It's kind of spoiler-y.

Ophelia: I've never been an Ophelia fan in the original. She was just kind of lame to me (I much prefer Desdemona). Klein's whole purpose for writing this book was to give Ophelia a voice and a better character. I think she did a great job doing this. I actually really liked the Ophelia she painted in this novel.

However, I don't think her version of Ophelia lines up well enough with the original. There's no real precedent or hint of the Ophelia we get in Klein's version.

Horatio: I like Horatio in the original, and I like him in this version. Klein gives him much more space to stretch out and develop, and his development is really in line with what we see in the original. He's probably the best-preserved character from the original to this spin-off. I'm not so sure about his feelings for/relationship with Ophelia, though. I just don't get the sense, from the original, that Horatio had too many dealings with Ophelia other than possibly delivering some messages to and from Hamlet.

Gertrude: While I'm not a fan of Klein's expansion of Ophelia, I think she takes the strangest turn with Gertrude. The Gertrude in the original is very much a background character, and one we're left wondering about. We don't know how she really felt about old Hamlet's death, or why she married Claudius so soon after the death. We don't know, really, how she treats and views Hamlet as a son. She just seems to hang out in the background of most of the scenes, not really saying much.

Klein's Gertrude is a little too knowing for my interpretation, though. If she was so knowing, she wouldn't have done a lot of the things she did and she wouldn't have let a lot of the things happen that happened. Klein's Gertrude is too complicit but still too "innocent" in the whole situation. It just didn't sit well with me.

Events: I'm not going to go into details here, but Klein builds nearly an entire book out of things that happen outside the realm of Shakespeare's play. And, looking at Shakespeare's other plays and many of the conventions of the time period in which it's vaguely set, Klein's events are incredibly plausible. It's a whole book of the what-might-have-beens, and (almost) all of them make sense.

Overall, this is a really interesting read for any fans of Shakespeare, the original version of Hamlet and spin-offs in general.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Short Reviews: End-of-the-Year-Catch-up

In an attempt to fit in all the books I've read this year, seeing as I've spent the last three months as a horrible blogging slacker, I'm mashing in three shorter reviews today. I won't include synopses of the books, so click on the book cover if you want to read more about the story! Makes my life a little easier!

The Distant Hours: A Novel Title: The Distant Hours

Author: Kate Morton

Pages: 672 (I have an ARC, so page numbers in finished copies might be different)

Source: Publisher for review

Rating: 10/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

My Two Cents:

I just love Kate Morton's work, and I'm sad I was so horrible at reviewing that I can't give this book it's own post.

Although I love all of Morton's characters for one reason or another, this whole cast of characters is by far my favorite as a whole. Edie is great as a narrator: She's likable and curious enough to pursue the family mystery, but loves her mother and her privacy enough that she doesn't openly pry too often. The three Blythe sisters are the perfect picture of old spinsters harboring dark secrets. Edie's mother, Meredith, is probably my favorite, though. She changes, at least in Edie's perception, from a slightly standoffish, rather typical British woman of her era to someone with a layered, emotional past.

Morton's writing is, as always, beautiful, but there's more here than in her other two novels. There's a much deeper mystery to unravel, and Morton's writing takes on a darker, more Gothic character. Sure, the book's kind of a slog at times (At over 600 pages, what book isn't?), but it's well worth it in the end.

Torment (Fallen)
Title: Torment (Fallen #2)

Author: Lauren Kate

Pages: 452

Source: Friend

Rating: 7/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

My Two Cents:

While not quite as enthralling as the first book (But really, what sequel is?), this is by far one of the better follow-ups in young adult literature this year. I was worried after a spate of really disappointing sequels (I'm looking at you, Burned, Spirit Bound, Linger and Crescendo) that this would be much the same. However, I was really pleasantly surprised in many ways.

The novel does lose some of its charm when Daniel is off doing his own thing and Luce turns into a whiny teenager. But, Luce's new friends and her attempts to figure out what the shadows are saying to her propel the novel through the slower times. And, it picks right back up once Daniel comes back into the picture.

The ending definitely leaves this series open for the next book, Passion, not due out until next summer. I really want to find out what happens!

Last Sacrifice (Vampire Academy, Book 6)
Title: Last Sacrifice (Vampire Academy #6)

Author: Richelle Mead

Pages: 594

Source: Borrowed

Rating: 8/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

My Two Cents:

I'm a little mixed in my reaction to this one. For the most part, I loved it and thought it was a great way to wrap up the series. On the other hand, though, some things (Including the ending) seemed a little too neat and tidy for me.

The best part about this book, I think, is that we see very little of Rose and Lissa actually together. We see what Lissa's doing through Rose's eyes, but we don't actually see them together, and I think that really helps Lissa evolve a lot as a character. I only wish it had happened a little sooner in the series.

One of my big disappointments in this book, though, was Dimitri. We got a lot more face time with him than we did in Spirit Bound, which was nice, but he just wasn't as intriguing and engaging as he was in the previous books in the series. Of course, a lot of that has to do with his battling with the things he did as a Strigoi, but I just really, really missed the Dimitri of the first few books of the series.

All in all, though, this was a solid and satisfying ending to this series.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Show Me 5 Saturday: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451From That's A Novel Idea and Find Your Next Book Here

1 book I read: Fahrenheit 451

2 words that describe the book: Dystopian literature

3 settings where it took place or characters you met:

Guy Montag - The main character, a firefighter in the future whose job it is to set fires, not put them out. He spends most of his life going along with the sentiment that books are evil and should be burnt, but meeting a young girl who moves in next door begins to change his perspective.

Captain Beatty - The ultimate government patsy, he enforces the rules to a T. He suspects Montag's leanings almost before Montag knows them himself, and he executes his orders.

Clarisse McClellan - A 17-year-old free-thinker who moves in next door to Montag. Her conversations with Montag, centering around thinking and talking instead of passively having things fed to you, are what gets Montag to rethink his way of life.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it:

I liked how I could actually (frighteningly) picture this world coming into existence. We're really not that far off from this possibility, which is scary.

I didn't like how it seemed to take a long time for Montag to make his mental "switch," but once he did, it all went lightning-fast. It just seemed like a big build-up for a super-quick payoff.

I liked Captain Beatty, as reprehensible a character as he is. He's the personification of censorship, and he does a good job putting the fear of God into those around him.

I liked (No, LOVED) the ending. Such an amazing concept. I think more people need to put this into practice right now, because it almost seems like we're losing a lot of crucial books to a lack of readership.

5 Stars or less for your rating?

I'm giving the book 5 stars. An absolute must-read.

The Whys and Wheres: Personal library

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge; 451 Challenge

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Short Reviews: Radiance and Infinite Days

In an attempt to fit in all the books I've read this year, seeing as I've spent the last three months as a horrible blogging slacker, I'm mashing in two shorter reviews today. I won't include synopses of the books, so click on the book cover if you want to read more about the story! Makes my life a little easier!

Radiance Title: Radiance

Author: Alyson Noel

Pages: 183 (I have an ARC, so page counts in final copies may be different)

Source: Publisher for review

Rating: 6/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

My Two Cents:

The concept to this book is great: Riley (Little sister to Ever from Noel's young adult Immortals series) is in the other life, but finds it really pretty boring. Until she starts at an afterlife school, where she learns that she's been chosen for an interesting mission. And the concept holds up, but Riley is just one of those kids you want to hit upside the head. She's bratty and bossy and doesn't listen to anyone. She only wants to do what she wants to do, regardless of consequences. Yes, I know this is how a lot of preteens act, but it really took away from my enjoyment of the book.

This book will be enjoyed by fans of the Immortals series and readers in the middle grade levels.

Infinite Days (Vampire Queen)
Title: Infinite Days (Vampire Queen #1)

Author: Rebecca Maizel

Pages: 308 (I have an ARC, so page counts in final copies may be different)

Source: Publisher for review

Rating: 6/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

My Two Cents:

This was a tough one to get through. It started out really interesting, especially seeing how Lenah adjusts to her new human life, but then kind of fell off the wagon. The entire middle was just random days in Lenah's life and her relationship with Justin, which would have been fine in a non-paranormal young adult book, but it didn't work well here. There was just a lot that didn't get explained, and maybe that will be touched more in later books in the series, but I was just left with a kind of lukewarm feeling altogether about this one.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

2011 Debut Authors Challenge

In reading Kristi's blog all year, I've seen a lot about the Debut Author Challenge. I thought it looked cool, but didn't have the time to commit to another challenge for 2010. Heck, I barely finished some of the challenges I signed up for!

Anyway, I'm jumping in this year. It looks like an AWESOME list of books, and I can't wait to pick some out!

I ended up reading a lot more MG/YA this year than I thought I did, and I've discovered that YA has really stepped it up a notch from when I was younger. It's not all Lurlene McDaniel and Fear Street. There's some seriously awesome stuff being written for teens now, and I'd be remiss to not give as much of it a go as possible.

I haven't picked out my books yet, but I plan to spend a LOT of time looking through the list and cross-referencing synopses with Amazon and Goodreads.

Show Me 5 Saturday: Push by Sapphire

Push (HARDCOVER)From That's A Novel Idea and Find Your Next Book Here

1 book I read: Push

2 words that describe the book: Overcoming boundaries

3 settings where it took place or characters you met:

Claireece "Precious" Jones - A 16-year-old severely overweight black girl living in Harlem, Precious is pregnant with her second child by her father. When she gets kicked out of her public school, Precious enrolls in an alternative program that teaches her how to read and write, and gives her a way out of the abusive, poverty-stricken life she has always known.

Blue Rain - Precious' teacher at Each One Teach One, she pushes the young women in the program to write something every day, no matter what it is or how incoherent it may seem. She becomes Precious' champion and her daily conversations with Precious, through a journal, help get the young girl moving in the right direction.

Abdul Jones - Precious' infant son and her motivation for learning to read and write, moving out of her mother's apartment, and working toward a better life for both of them.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it:

I liked that, although Precious' life up to the beginning of the novel is absolutely horrible and she seems to be caught in a cycle that will never end, Precious still maintains some hope that she'll be able to find a better life for herself. She just needs someone who cares about her (Which she finds) and who knows how to move Precious in the right direction.

I disliked how the entire novel was written in dialect. I know it's Precious' story, and that's how she speaks and thinks, but it just made parts of the book really difficult to read through because I had to figure out what was being said.

I liked the Each One Teach One class's stories written out at the end of the book. We got allusions to where the other girls in the class came from background-wise through Precious' story, but hearing their lives in their own words was interesting.

I liked that the book ends with a lot of hope. It's often easy to write about people in dire situations and leave the book with there being very little hope that the characters will crawl out of it, but not here. Precious has a better life on the horizon, and you know it.

5 Stars or less for your rating?

I'm giving the book 4 stars.

The Whys and Wheres: Personal library

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge; Take Another Chance Challenge (Challenge 2 - Blogroll Roulette)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Short Reviews: The King's Mistress and The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

In an attempt to fit in all the books I've read this year, seeing as I've spent the last three months as a horrible blogging slacker, I'm mashing in two shorter reviews today. I won't include synopses of the books, so click on the book cover if you want to read more about the story! Makes my life a little easier!

The King's Mistress: A NovelTitle: The King's Mistress

Author: Emma Campion

Pages: 442 (I have an ARC, so page counts in final copies may be different)

Source: Publisher for review

Rating: 7/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

My Two Cents:

This book has an interesting, enigmatic main character, the mistress of an English king about whom we don't really hear much. Alice Perrers, the mistress of King Edward III, begins the book young and unsure, married to a wealthy merchant. She changes considerably over the course of the book's 20-plus years of events, but still remains an interesting and relevant narrator.

My main criticism of this book is that it just seemed to try and cram too much into one novel. There's enough material here for a short series, one I would've read happily. We get more than 20 years of happenings in one book, from Alice as a young teenager all the way past Edward's death, and it just seems rushed, especially at the end. I really would have liked to see a lot more about what happened at court and to Alice and her family following Edward's death, but the last couple years of time are crammed into so short a page span it's nearly impossible.

This book is great for any fans of historical fiction, especially English royalty historical fiction.

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden: A Novel
Title: The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

Author: Helen Grant

Pages: 281 (I have an ARC, so page counts in final copies may be different)

Source: Publisher for review

Rating: 9/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

My Two Cents:

This novel's plucky, curious young narrator is what pilots this intriguing story over the top into a great novel. Pia, whose grandmother burst into flames at Christmas dinner at the beginning of the novel, uses her recent status as a schoolyard outsider to try and solve the mystery of why young girls suddenly disappear in her small German town. With the help of StinkStefan, a fellow outcast and another great character, she befriends a gregarious old storyteller and delves into the disappearances. When the reader thinks the mystery will be solved one way, the story takes surprising turns, leading the the final conclusion.

Grant's writing is another thing that makes this book so solid. She seamlessly weaves in words and traditions from Pia's German town, making the somewhat exotic setting seem familiar. And her choice of subject matter, child disappearance, is a timely one that is sure to capture the interest of any reader.

For fans of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and other Flavia de Luce mysteries, this is a must-read book.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Show Me 5 Saturday: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

To the Lighthouse,A landmark of modern fiction, Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse explores thesubjective reality of everyday life in the Hebrides for the Ramsay family.Paperback on December 27, 1989From That's A Novel Idea and Find Your Next Book Here

1 book I read: To the Lighthouse
2 words that describe the book: Modern fiction

3 settings where it took place or characters you met:

The Hebrides, on the Isle of Skye - This is the location of the Ramsay family's summer home and the place where the entire novel unfolds over the course of several years. There's really not much else to say about the Hebrides besides showing you a picture:


Gorgeous, isn't it? Sigh...

Lily Briscoe - Not a member of the Ramsay family, Lily really is the main character in this novel. She begins a shy young painter who takes too much to heart the ramblings of Charles Tansley that women shouldn't be painters. She spends most of the novel doubting various things, most often her abilities. There's an idea for a painting bouncing around in her head for a decade, and the painting finally is finished at the end of the novel.

Mr. Ramsay - A rude, self-centered man, he worries too much of his legacy and his impact in the world. He takes out his insecurities on his wife and children, bullying them into submission. He also is very much a modern character who questions Victorian practices and ideals, but only when they serve him.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it:

I liked, as always, Woolf's writing. She's one of those writers who could compose a sketch on grass growing and make it beautiful. There's no one that compares to her in my book.

I liked Mrs. Ramsay's character. She's kind and hopeful, buoying up her husband and children when necessary, and protective of the children's innocence. She has a very Romantic view of the world, appreciating beauty and believing it should be preserved.

I liked Woolf's experiment with the second section, showing the passing of a decade. It's a tough section to slog through if you're not paying attention, but the payoff is great.

I greatly disliked Mr. Ramsay's character. He reminds me of all those overbearing, chauvinistic patriarchs that are represented in history and literature. He really had no redeeming qualities to him, in my opinion.

5 Stars or less for your rating?

I'm giving the book 5 stars. This is a classic everyone should read.

The Whys and Wheres: Personal library

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge; Take Another Chance Challenge #3 - 100 Best Books

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Review: Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3) by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)Title: Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3)

Author: Suzanne Collins

Pages: 390

Source: Personal library

Rating: 8/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

Summary (From book flap):

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss's family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans -- except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels' Mockingjay -- no matter what the personal cost.

My Two Cents:

I know a lot of people were disappointed in this book as an ending to the trilogy, and I can see where they're coming from, but I quite liked it. Sure, it wasn't perfect and there were things that had me scratching my head, but for the most part, I thought it was a good ending.

I'm not going to give this a traditional review (In my normal style) simply because my thoughts on it are a little scattered still. So, I'll start with the things I liked, then end with the things I disliked.

First, the good

I'm glad there wasn't a third set of Games in this book. First, it wouldn't have fit what with portions of Panem totally falling apart and all, but a third Games would have been repetitive. We just would have seen Katniss fight for her life, again, and maintain her humanity and compassion in the face of evil, again. It was refreshing to have a change from that.

I also liked how you're never quite sure how to feel about Haymitch. He's kind of the Snape character of this series - Is he good and helping Katniss out, or is he bad and serving the Capitol's interests? He's a great character that has a lot of shading to him, and I enjoyed that.

I was glad that Katniss and Peeta spent most of the book apart from one another. Katniss needed Peeta to be elsewhere and in trouble of his own in order to grow up and realize that the world does not revolve around her. I think the loss of Peeta is really what catalyzed Katniss into becoming the leader she needed to be to help out the revolution.

I also was glad the revolution wasn't all sunshine and rainbows (What revolution is?). If there had been no snags within the group, it would have been an unrealistic portrayal. But, Collins has been faithful thus far in making even the most desolate situations realistic, so I don't know why I would have thought maybe she would have slipped up on this one. Either way, it was good to see that even people fighting for a good cause can have their own personal desires and can put those desires before the good of everyone.

The not-so-good

First, what the heck was up with Gale in this book?!?! He suddenly became super angry and violent and just really, really savage, and I didn't like it. He wasn't exactly my favorite character in the first place, but the turn he took in the third book was kind of out of left field. I didn't like it one bit, and I was always glad when the scene would shift and Gale was gone.

To me, Katniss still seemed a little self-absorbed, especially in the beginning of the book. "I don't want to be the face of all this, find someone else" doesn't really work when the people will rally around YOU. Even though you're a teenager and, well, teenagers tend to be a little self-involved, if there's a revolution going on and the lives of everyone you know are at stake, you suck it up and do what has to be done.

The revolution seemed to move a little more quickly than I would have expected, and I think that kind of diluted the effect. There were some big scenes, and some major uprisings in the Districts, but it just seemed as if the whole thing just got started and then it was over. Revolutions are usually protracted and much, much messier than this one appeared to be (Minus the loss of pretty much all of District 12). I think the story would have been a bit stronger if we could have seen some more of the struggling and fighting of the other areas of Panem before the revolution just suddenly ended.

The epilogue just seemed kind of tacked on there. Katniss spends the entire series thinking one thing and saying one thing and, all of a sudden (To us), she totally does a 180 and has this completely different life? I know the epilogue takes place many years after the rest of the series, but it just seemed a little too neat and tidy a way to end the whole thing to me.

If you're thinking at all about reading this series, I would absolutely recommend doing so. It is well worth the investment and will have you thinking and talking about it long after you close the final book.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Where I've been: An explanation

I'm still alive!

Even though I haven't been posting frequently (I have about nine reviews to write...), commenting on other blogs, hanging out on Twitter or even reading, I am still around. I've just been having an interesting few months, and hopefully I'll be able to get back to my regular schedule here in the near future.

Where have I been, you ask?

Well, at the end of August, I officially became an ex-librarian and went to work at Starbucks. I work super-early hours (I have to be there at 5 a.m.) and have a 30-minute-plus drive each way to work. Not to mention the fact that I haven't had an on-my-feet-all-day job in about three years, so I'm absolutely beat by the time I get home from work.

Doesn't really leave much energy for blogging or tweeting.

But, the new job is nothing compared to the REALLY BIG NEWS.

Ready for it?

 That's right, there's a new addition on the way to our household! I've had a major case of the first-trimester lazies, but I'm hoping that eases up a bit so I can actually do things besides hold down the couch.
This is a super-old sonogram (This was only at a little over 7 weeks, but I'm now 14 1/2 weeks), but I think this kid looks like me already! :)

We'll find out whether it's a boy or girl after the first of the year, and we're planning a homebirth (I have an AWESOME midwife) for sometime around May 24, 2011.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Show Me 5 Saturday: Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2) by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (The Second Book of the Hunger Games) From That's A Novel Idea and Find Your Next Book Here

1 book I read: Catching Fire (The Hunger Games #2)

2 words that describe the book: Young adult dystopian (Three, but it works!)

3 settings where it took place or characters you met:

Finnick Odair - One of the former tributes from District 4, Finnick initially comes off as pompous and confident, qualities which make Katniss dislike him. Eventually, during the Quarter Quell Games, he shows that outside appearances aren't all they seem to be.

President Snow - Although we heard of him in the first book, we never actually met the man at the head of the Capitol. He's just as cruel and sadistic as he's portrayed from afar, and the worst of him is yet to come.

Mags - Another victor from District 4, Katniss takes pity on her advanced age and teams up with her early in the Quarter Quell Games. She proves to be much more useful, and incredibly self-sacrificing, than Katniss originally thought she was, once again proving to Katniss that she can't always trust first impressions.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it:

I liked that, even though things seemed horrible and bleak in the first book, they just keep getting worse. I know this sounds really terrible of me, but it's the whole "The night is darkest before the dawn" thing: Things can only get worse before they get better, and people have to be tested to their absolute limits to find out what they're made of.

I liked that, in the midst of all the horrible things brought on by the Capitol, Katniss still has time to worry about "typical" teenage things such as love. It made the horrors of Panem seem a little less relentless.

I liked that there are hints of what's going to happen in the final book of the trilogy, but you don't actually piece together the puzzle until you've read it all. That thread of the story is what makes other series, such as Harry Potter, so appealing.

I liked that Katniss evolved as a character, even though less than a year elapses between the end of the first book and the start of this one. She's even more jaded and angry than before because of what she witnessed during the Games, but her experience also taught her to hold her loved ones a little bit more close.

5 Stars or less for your rating?

I'm giving the book 5 stars. Although I can't put it exactly into words, this was my favorite book of the trilogy.

The Whys and Wheres: Personal library

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review: The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1) by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games: Book 1Title: The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games #1)

Author: Suzanne Collins

Pages: 384

Source: Library

Rating: 10/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

Summary (From back of book):

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before -- and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

My Two Cents:

I was pretty late to the Hunger Games train, but I'd read the buzz about it on Twitter for months before I picked up the series. I'm big into dystopian literature, but I was a bit hesitant as to a young adult series involving a fight to the death. Just seemed a little too brutal for me.

Boy, I'm glad I finally picked up this trilogy.

Collins creates a world where people have just enough freedom to talk about how much they despise their government, but not enough that they can actually do anything about it. They all hate the Hunger Games and the controls the government puts on them. They all try to find small ways around the controls. But, they can't (Or don't) actively fight the Powers That Be. It's all pretty classic dystopian, but for some reason the people of Panem seem a little less settled into their world than the people of, say, 1984 or Brave New World.

Katniss was a great choice for a main character. She's got just enough fear of the Capitol to keep her in line, but she's openly rebellious (Which sets her up for later in the series), so her defiance during the Games doesn't come from nowhere. And while she's had to take care of her family for many years, she's still naive enough in a lot of ways to be a believable teenager. Collins strikes the right balance between making Katniss a strong hero and an inexperienced young girl.

A lot has been made by critics of the trilogy that it's too violent and disturbing to be marketed at young adults. They feel the concept of a people oppressed by their government is valuable, but that pitting teens against one another in a fight to the death is barbaric. I say it's a ridiculous criticism.

Literature's job is to make its readers think. In this case, Collins wants the reader to think about what life could be like if we allow the government to have too much control. While much of the traditional dystopian canon isn't so violent (1984, Brave New World), Collins shows that humans can resort to terrible things in order to keep control. These are important issues that a lot of adults don't even think about, and I believe that using young adult literature to get kids thinking about these possibilities early is commendable. I'd much prefer my teen reading a book that raises incredibly important, disturbing questions that lead to family discussion than if he or she read nothing but books about sports teams or mean girl cliques (Not saying these type of books are all bad, but there's a difference between books that are just there for entertainment and books that actually make a person think). The issues Collins brings up are ones that a lot of adult authors are afraid to broach, and I laud her for being gutsy enough to make her readers uncomfortable.

This is a book (Series, actually) that kept me up at night and held the need to do laundry at bay. I couldn't stop reading even though I felt sick to my stomach much of the time at the sheer barbarity of the words on the page. It got me thinking and talking, and one co-worker and a customer of mine have since read the trilogy and we still talk about it from time to time. This is, I think, one of those enduring works of young adult literature that everyone, young or old, needs to read at some point.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Show Me 5 Saturday: The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

From That's A Novel Idea and Find Your Next Book Here
The Final Solution: A Story of Detection (P.S.)

1 book I read: The Final Solution: A Story of Detection

2 words that describe the book: Detective fiction

3 settings where it took place or characters you met:

Setting: England

The 89-year-old Detective: It's never fully said, but it's very obvious that this once-famous detective-turned-beekeeper is the Sherlock Holmes of legend. He still retains much of his mental acuity and deductive reasoning, but loses a lot of the quirks that made him so interesting in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's canonical works.

Linus Steinman: A 9-year-old mute whose past includes seeing some hideous things. When his parrot pet disappears, it's up to the Detective to find out what happened and what's made Linus lose his speech.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it:

I liked Chabon's writing. I've never read anything by this Pulitzer Prize-winner, but his prose is the stuff of legends. He's a master of the clever turns of phrase and immense vocabulary.

I liked that the mystery centers around a set of numbers that could be anything: A code, a math problem, a phone number. I don't know why this was so intriguing to me, but I think I enjoy it most when the mysteries in books are a little more brainy and a little less whodunit.

I didn't like the way Chabon basically ruined all that was good about Sherlock Holmes. This may sound harsh, but I have a HUGE fond spot in my heart for the eccentric detective (I'm also not a fan of Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of him, but that's another story for another day) and I don't like seeing the things that once made him so interesting just gone. Sure, he's older and retired, but he should not lose the ability for witty repartee that made him so intriguing in the past.

I liked that Chabon wrote an entire section of the book from the parrot's point of view. It was, in my opinion, the most charming part of the book. I wish there would have been more of it!

5 Stars or less for your rating?

I'm giving the book 3 stars. I was just disappointed in this one. It would've rated higher if Sherlock Holmes hadn't been so lame.

The Whys and Wheres: Library

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge; Take Another Chance Challenge (Challenge 11: All in the Family)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review: Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman

Red Hook RoadTitle: Red Hook Road

Author: Ayelet Waldman

Pages: 335 (I have an ARC, so page numbers in the final version may differ)

Source: Publisher

Rating: 6/10

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge; Take Another Chance Challenge (Challenge 11: All in the Family)

Summary (From back of book):

Set on the coast of Maine over the course of four summers, Red Hook Road tells the story of two families, the Tetherleys and the Copakens, and of the ways in which their lives are unraveled and stitched together by misfortune, by good intentions and failure, and by love and calamity.

My Two Cents:

I really didn't have many expectations going into this book, so I can't say I was as "disappointed" as a lot of the reviews I've read are saying. Overall, I liked this book and enjoyed Waldman's writing, but I can't say I loved this book.

Waldman is a fabulous writer. She has a gift for conveying the varied perspectives of different characters on one event. She's also great at describing her setting. In fact, the picture she painted of the area of the Maine coast in which this book is set was probably my favorite part; it made me want to go visit Maine in the summer.

She also has the ability to create some pretty vivid, memorable characters, whether you ultimately like them or not. My favorite character was Mr. Kimmelbrod, the virtuoso violinist and grandfather of the Copaken family. He was devoted to his students and their music, and at times standoffish with his family, but you could tell that deep down, he loved them. I think maybe it was his emotional detachment to the situations presented in the book that allowed me to like him so much, as every other character spent the entire novel so overwrought with emotion and the ghosts of the past.

As much as I enjoyed Waldman's writing and her characters, I felt as if a lot of the plot was just too contrived. There was just too much happenstance in everything going on surrounding the accident that it started to become unbelievable. Also, (nearly all) the characters' unwillingness to move on and dig themselves out of the pit of despair was maddening. I just wanted to scream, "Get on with your lives already!" sometimes.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Show Me 5 Saturday: The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events #1) by Lemony Snicket

From That's A Novel Idea and Find Your Next Book Here

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events #1) 

1 book I read: The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events #1)

2 words that describe the book: Juvenile suspense

3 settings where it took place or characters you met:

Violet Baudelaire - A 14-year-old who, along with her two younger siblings, is suddenly orphaned by a house fire. But, that's not the worst thing to happen to the Baudelaires in this book. Violet is smart and cares deeply for her siblings, something you don't often see in juvenile or young adult literature.

Count Olaf - The Baudelaires' mysterious distant relative, Count Olaf is an eccentric, mean man who wants only the children's money. He forces them to cook and clean his house, and even attempts to trick Violet into marrying him. He's one of the biggest creeps I've ever met in literature.

Justice Strauss - Count Olaf's next door neighbor, she has a gorgeous library to which she allows the children access. She cares for the Baudelaires, but she's just another oblivious adult who only does what the law says is right.

4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it:

I liked that Snicket didn't talk down to the readers in this book. He didn't simplify the language, yet he offered up explanations and definitions when he used a larger word. I think it's important for children's literature to challenge the readers instead of just being a breezy good story.

I liked the Baudelaire children. They are great characters who I just wanted to spend the entire book rooting for.

I didn't like that nothing really good seems to happen to the Baudelaires. I know that's the premise of the book, as this is a "series of unfortunate events," but it was just one bad, depressing thing after another. I don't think I can read the rest of this series if it's just all going to be this way.

I didn't like how creepy Count Olaf was. I'm sorry, but in a book aimed at older juveniles (Ages 8-12), I don't think it's appropriate to have an old man try to trick a young girl into marrying him, no matter that it doesn't really happen. Just a little too disturbing for me.

5 Stars or less for your rating?

I'm giving the book 3 stars. It was well-written, but there were just too many things I didn't like about this book for me to rate it higher.

The Whys and Wheres: Library

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge
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