Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: Insurgent

Title: Insurgent
Author: Veronica Roth
Genre: YA,dystopian, science fiction
Rating: 3/5

 I really liked Divergent. I thought it was one of the better YA dystopian novels because of the great characters, intriguing technology and social structure, and the way the author wasn't afraid to let bad things happen. I was tired of terrible things almost happening and then getting averted just in the nick of time, and I was so glad that Roth wasn't afraid to take those risks. I can't say the same about Insurgent.

 It's been a while since I read Divergent, so I don't remember all the little details. This was a slight problem because Insurgent jumps right where Divergent left off. I was left in the dark about who all these minor characters were and what exactly had happened at the end of the first book. There could have been a bit more explanation to ease into the second book, but I don't think it is too much of a problem.

 Insurgent deals with some interesting issues, but none of them are developed as much as they could be. It's all about the factions turning against one another and/or allying together, but we never really get to know the other factions (the factions besides Dauntless, I mean). The Erudite are all evil masterminds that mindlessly follow their evil mastermind leader Jeanine. The Candor are the brutally honest and naive ones. The Amity are peace-loving to a fault. The Abnegation are, well, so selfless that "find it very hard to survive" in life and death situations. Basically, anyone who isn't Dauntless is automatically a part of a stereotype, and we very rarely get to see the people of other factions as individuals or complex characters. Jeanine especially could have been so much more than "evil mastermind that is obviously out to destroy the world for selfish reasons." We get the slightest hint that she has good intentions, but there is never enough consideration or opportunity to really believe that. Jeanine could have been such a complex and interesting "villain" for lack of a better word because she means well. Instead, she's just evil and you hardly get any time to get in her head or understand why she does what she does. Sure her methods aren't exactly ethical -[Show spoiler] - but maybe she really was concerned about the greater good.

 The independent, strong-willed characters that I liked in Divergent were reduced to unlikeable wimps by the end of this book. Tris especially...I feel a rant coming on. Spoilers ahead!

 Tris is Divergent. Isn't that enough to make her special enough to be the main character? Of course not. She has to be the Divergent with three aptitudes instead of the usual two. And that isn't enough either. Jeanine has to want her in particular because she's the Divergent with the largest prefrontal cortex she's ever seen. And that's still not enough. Tris has to be descended from the woman on the video about the mysterious outside (gasps!), thus acting as proof of the video's validity and making her that much more valuable. Come on.

 Now, this wouldn't bother me so much if Tris was extraordinarily brave or selfless or intelligent or loving or anything really that merited so much importance, but if I ever thought of her that way in Divergent, I sure as hell didn't think so after this book. She spends the majority of it lying to people who care about her and moping. The first half of the book centers around her feeling oh so guilty about killing Will. It's explained a thousand times - Will was under a simulation, so she couldn't reason with him. Common sense would dictate that you shoot him in the leg instead of the head, but it was a panic situation, not a logical one. Of course Tris didn't mean to kill her best friend. And half of those very reasonable explanations come from THE DEAD GUY'S SISTER. At the beginning, I was sympathetic because I could imagine that killing a friend in cold blood has to be scarring. But Roth tried way too hard to justify it and by the end I was just annoyed. Christina had every right to never forgive Tris, and Tris should have told her friend the truth or made an attempt to be forgiven, but instead she does nothing and Christina magically forgives her. Because Tris is so special and no one could possibly hate her, right?

 Well, Tris gave me plenty to dislike. She walks into the Amity and demands to see the Erudite refugees. When asked why, she says she's going to shoot them. In the middle of a revolution, where people don't know when the next attack is coming and innocent people are dying, it's probably not the best time to joke about shooting people. And Tris is supposedly part-Erudite...goodness. Once she enlists the help of Cara and the other Erudite refugees, she makes a comment about "trying to forget what [Cara] said about her nose." Really? So Tris doesn't just hold grudges - she's vain and selfish too. Abnegation, where did you go? Now that we've knocked down two of Tris' supposed aptitudes, it's time for the third. Once she gives herself up to Jeanine, she dissolves into a sobbing mess at the sight of Tobias. She needs Tobias and Peter to save her (so helpless, unlike the Tris of Divergent), and instead of thanking Peter for going to so much trouble to save her life, she yells at him for not doing it out of the goodness of his heart. Well, Tris, if you'd rather be dead, that's fine by me. Personally, I'm glad Peter didn't magically turn good. He did what he needed to to "even the score" and then he went about his usual ways. It always drives me insane when bad people magically turn good, so I could appreciate Peter's motivations. Back to Tris. Her constant self-deprecation for "choosing" Marcus over Tobias was ridiculous, especially when that wasn't even important. Tris made the choice because that was what she believed was in the best interest of everyone. She was honoring the deaths of her parents. And that means nothing to her just because it means Tobias will be pissed? She's practically cowering from Tobias. Not Dauntless at all.

 Ok, I think I'm done ranting about Tris. But I am definitely not done ranting. Tobias was a mysterious, firm but gentle, caring guy in Divergent. Now he's a jerk. He's constantly picking fights with Tris for no good reason ("you can't hold a gun and you call yourself Dauntless. Get over shooting Will right now. Don't say anything bad about my mother even if she's clearly up to something shady. Say "I love you" twice because I don't believe anything you say anymore"). He has double standards about when it's okay for him to keep secrets and when Tris can do the same, and is generally ridiculously insensitive. And then he'll turn around and say something along the lines of "I love you and I don't want to lose you, so that's why I'm so mean. See? I love you very much."

 And finally, Caleb. Caleb was my favorite character. He stood up for Tris when Tobias was a jerk, he was a caring brother, his natural curiosity was adorable, and he was just such a nice guy. And then he had to betray his sister and everything his parents stood for by following Jeanine like a puppy-dog just for some shock value. Not okay. And what Tris says to him about how he should have "tried and failed" to save her from Jeanine was pretty ironic, since she was more than happy to oblige when Marcus told her to leave a wounded Christina and others behind so that they could get to the hard drive. She didn't try to save many people. In fact, she mostly let other people save her. (ok, so I wasn't done ranting about Tris. But I promise I'm done now!)

 I think this is one of the longest reviews I've ever written. I didn't realize how strongly I felt about this book until I started ranting. It's mostly disappointment that such a good series dissolved into...well, this. I'm hoping the next book brings back the old Tris. We shall see!

Review: The Diviners

Title: The Diviners
Author: Libba Bray
Genre: YA, historical fiction, fantasy, thriller

If it's any clue to how addictive this book is, I read this 600 page tome in 3 days (for some perspective, that's about twice as fast as I usually read). This book was intense to say the least!

I have read a couple of Libba Bray books before, and I have usually liked but not loved them. I am always annoyed by the over-the-top-ness of her characters and satire, but I do respect the ideas she has and the way she constructs such bold stories around them. I think bold would be a good way to describe The Diviners as well - it's a mix of historical fiction and fantasy in one of the most unique and interesting combinations I have ever seen. The Roaring Twenties, characterized by opposites (both great success and great poverty, religious fervor and rebellion, prohibition and flapper girls, the list goes on), meets the classic age old good versus mysterious evil lurking in the shadows.

The story centers around Evie O'Neill, a spirited young woman who loves to live in the moment and jump into everything. At a party one night, she decides to show off her "secret power" and ends up getting into enough trouble that her parents send her off to New York to live with her uncle, the curator of the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult (aka the Museum of the Creepy Crawlies). When gruesome murders start happening around New York, Evie and her Uncle Will are called to the scene to find an explanation. Evie finds herself mixed up in a supernatural mystery that makes her hair stand on end - more reason to jump headfirst into the adventure! As Evie investigates the murders, she learns more about her unique power...and that she isn't alone.

The stories of the other characters with unexpected powers and their struggles to understand who they are added so much to the story. I almost cried for Theta when I finally found out about her past, and my heart melted for Sam when I found about his mother. I was in shock when I found out about Jericho, although he doesn't quite fit in with the rest of them. Memphis was my favorite character in the book, and I thought his gift/burden was the most interesting. He is charming and everyone seems to love him, but no one really knows him, and he is plagued with loneliness. He feels guilty for his mother's death and his brother's visions, but he does the best he can to help the people he cares about. I wish Memphis, Theta, and Sam had had more to do with the final conflict - it seemed as though this book just introduced them and their stories, but they didn't actually have to do with the main plotline. 

Speaking of the main plotline, it was incredibly suspenseful and I couldn't shake the feeling of dark shadow looming overhead. The main antagonist was downright creepy and many of the murders were terribly gruesome and left me shuddering. Still, all of the suspense and the murders seemed to take a backseat to the main plot of the whole series, which only seemed to be introduced in the final 50 pages or so. I was confused as to why there was such an elaborate (and frankly, very compelling and frightening) plot in this book if it was only a minor detail in the grand scheme of things. You would think it difficult to undermine a bunch of grotesque murders and an evil spirit out to take over the world, but it happens.

Despite the minor complaint about the plot, I really enjoyed this book. The characters came alive for me, and they were far from perfect. I admit Evie got on my nerves at first with her flair for the dramatic and her headstrong stubbornness, but she grew so much throughout the book (as did so many other characters). I am looking forward to reading the next book

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Review: Code Name Verity

Title: Code Name Verity
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA, Suspense
Rating: 5/5

If you are a fan of historical fiction, you will love this. If you enjoy novels with unreliable narrators and layers of truth that need sorting and piecing together, you will also love this. And finally, if you think friendship is one of the most beautiful things on earth, you will love this book to death.

I don't really know quite where to start with this book. There are simply so many different sides to it, and I want to do it justice. This is a hard book to review simply because I don't want to accidentally let anything slip - there were so many "aha" moments when scraps of information clicked and I saw situations in a whole new light.

I was immediately hooked by the honest, open voice of the narrator in part 1. "Verity" is a spy who has been captured by the Nazis and is being tortured to tell them information about what the British are planning against them. She is keeping a written record of her memories and what she knows about the British plans, which is basically what you're reading. It's a pretty bleak situation, but there's plenty of dark humor and snarky asides that keep the tone from getting too depressing. Although the record is supposed to be what Verity/Julia knows about British airfields and maneuvers, it is really more about her friendship with Maddie. The friendship between these two young women was so beautiful, and I felt like their story was real. There were so many little moments and details that made it seem as though Elizabeth Wein was simply translating memories into a story.

The second part of the book is told from Maddie's perspective, and it sheds a lot of light onto what was going on with Verity/Julia. I don't want to spoil anything, but Maddie's portion made me see the first part in a whole new light. It was confusing having to rethink various "facts" but I think it was cleverly done. Also, the ending brought me quite close to tears. Truly, Maddie and Julia have an incredible friendship.

I really enjoyed the narrators' voices, and I really liked that they were strong women without having to keep affirming that to either themselves or the reader. They simply did what needed to be done, and their resourcefulness and courage were inspiring. I also appreciated how the characters would sob every once in a while - they are in such awful situations, and while crying usually makes people (especially women) seem weak, in this case it made them seem human. It was nice that they could freely admit when they'd been crying without feeling the need to make themselves look stronger or more resilient (because really, even though they cry, they really are remarkably strong people).

This book really resonated with me and I highly recommend it! 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review: Between Shades of Gray

Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA, Historical fiction
Rating: 3/5

I thought the subject matter of this book was really interesting - rather than telling the story of displaced Jews in Nazi Germany (as most World War II stories usually do), this one covers the displacement of Lithuanians in Stalinist Russia. I didn't know much about this side of World War II; we never really learned about how various groups were victimized by the social Darwinism that spawned from Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Although it was interesting to learn about this side of history, I didn't enjoy this book as much as I thought I would.

 The main character, Lina, is an artist. She's "gifted" at drawing and her whole family is proud of her ability. Little does she know that this talent will end up being a survival skill...

Lina's family is split apart and taken from their home by force; Lina doesn't understand what her family has done to deserve it. She meets many other displaced Lithuanians and sees both the best and the worst in people as they are taken farther and farther away from their civilized, comfortable lives. While some of the scenes in this book where horrifying, I felt like everything was a bit watered down because of Lina's self-centered and naive perspective. She didn't really get to know other characters very well, and thus neither did the reader. Lina doesn't do much at all; she's very dependent on her mother for her survival.

 I did appreciate the "shades of gray" in the cast of characters, because there were a bunch of people that you couldn't really call "good" or "bad." Another factor that bugged me a bit were the flashbacks of life before the displacement. Some memories were poignant, but others didn't really add to the story for me and they were just distracting. Although I didn't especially like this book, I would still recommend it as an eye-opening look into a side of World War II that isn't discussed very often.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review: A Game of Thrones

Title: Game of Thrones
Author: George R.R. Martin
Genre: High Fantasy
Rating: 4/5

I went into this book a little nervously: people either seemed to love or hate it, and generally when half the world loves a book, I'm in the latter camp. I grew up on fantasy novels, but over the past few years I'd switched over to sci-fi, but after some glowing recommendations from a few friends I decided to give this a try. I'm glad I did - I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would.

Don't get me wrong, there were definitely some aspects of this book that I didn't like (Daenerys, I'm looking at you). I know it has something to do with the historical context, but it was disturbing how young all the girls were when they were getting married and having children. Also, I felt like it was very unnecessary for all the men to have whores and mistresses (if the word "manhood" comes up as much in the next few books, I'm going to scream). Can't there be one healthy relationship out of the hundreds of relationships in this book? Daenerys especially drove me nuts for much of the book. She was so meek and submissive towards her brother, and after she is given off to Drogo, she one day decides she likes getting raped and embraces her inner mother-woman. Oh, I forgot to mention: she's THIRTEEN. I kind of aged her to 20-something in my mind, especially because of her role in the end of the book. [Show]

Although I'm usually quite the feminist, I wasn't all that bothered on that front. Of course, Daenerys drove me nuts, but for every Daenerys, Lisa, and Sansa, there was an Arya, Catelyn, and (dare I say it) Cersei. Yes, even though Cersei is a twisted and power-hungry woman, she is certainly not meek and is one of the largest driving forces of this novel. My point is that there were some weak women but there were also strong ones. And while we're on the subject of flawed characters, the men were pretty messed up too, so I don't take offense at the women being messed up.

I really enjoyed the plot twists and the multi-layered characters and world. There is not a single perfectly good or bad character, and the constantly shifting loyalties/betrayals/alliances kept things interesting. My favorite character was Lord Eddard Stark, because he was one of the few truly good characters (but then again Jon Snow is evidence that even he is not as morally upstanding as one would think). [Show Spoiler]

There were just so many characters I wanted to punch in the face, which is quite a strong reaction for me. I didn't know who to trust and who to root for. Although it was about 800 pages (and I was reading during finals week...hehe) I finished in less than a week. This series is seriously addicting!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Melina Marchetta!

If you don't know who Melina Marchetta is, there is a void in your life that needs filling.

Melina Marchetta is an Australian author who writes contemporary and fantasy novels. The one common thread I have found is that they always deal with messy relationships and sticky situations and ugliness, but always turn them into hope and beauty. Her characters are always so real and almost every one of her books has brought me to tears (or very close to them).

So you can imagine my excitement when I found out about a hardcover giveaway of her Chronicles of Lumatere trilogy:

I have been dying to get my hands on Quintana of Charyn for ages. If Froi of the Exiles is any indication to go by, this book is going to be intense, heartbreaking, and absolutely gorgeous.

What are you waiting for? Enter the giveaway!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Favorite books

What would a blog about words be without a list of my favorite books and authors? My favorite books are the ones that changed something in the way I look at the world or at books, books that struck me because I read them at the right time in my life, or simply books I am fond of because they have been with me for so long. In no particular order, here they are:

The Book Thief - Markus Zuzak
Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
Speaker for the Dead - Orson Scott Card
The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi
Froi of the Exiles - Melina Marchetta
Unwind - Neal Shusterman
Monsters of Men - Patrick Ness
The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents - Terry Pratchett
Crime and Punishment - Fyodr Dostoyevsky
Ptolemy's Gate - Jonathan Stroud

And an honorable mention list for amazing books that made me laugh, gasp, and cry but didn't quite make it to "favorite" status:

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Days of Blood and Starlight - Laini Taylor
Liar - Justine Larbalestier
And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie
Le Petit Prince - Antoine de St. Exupery
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle


I suppose the first post on a blog should be a bit of an introduction, so here goes!

I am a college student who loves to read books. Words have always been a fascination of mine; once I started reading, I never stopped! The library is one of my favorite places, and few things can make me happier than when I'm running my fingers over the cover of a new book. Some people say books help them escape their day-to-day lives, but for me books are more than that. They stories and ideas that come from the books I read become part of my day to day life.

Over the past few years I have been writing short stories. My favorite genres to read are science fiction and fantasy, so naturally most of my stories fall into these categories. I'll write almost anything, though. All I need is a spark of an idea, and then I write it out until it's gone. I've attempted to write a novel, and although I did manage to finish one, let's just say I'd be happiest if it never saw the light of day.

So this blog is to chronicle me and my adventures with words. Which brings me to my explanation for the title of this blog - what do snowflakes and spidersilk have to do with anything? Well, for one thing they are two of my favorite words. And for another, they're both such delicate, beautiful things but where one fades away with time, the other is far stronger than people realize. It's the same way with stories - some of them are beautiful and light but fade away, and others may not seem so beautiful at first but those are the ones that stick in your memory.
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