March 2015 archive

Not Delirious about the Delirium Series

middle_3171ab2aee2fe2643167100e796759512e_eih_delirium_er_banner_01I just finished the Delirium Series by Lauren Oliver. I’m sad to say that I’m not in love. I was entertained, and I respect the work Oliver did as I respect any writer’s work whether I like it or not. Writing is difficult! Unfortunately, I dreaded having to read the next two books in the series Pandemonium and Requiem after listening to the first book Delirium on audible.com.

Here’s the synopsis of Delirium via amazon.com:

In an alternate United States, love has been declared a dangerous disease, and the government forces everyone who reaches eighteen to have a procedure called the Cure. Living with her aunt, uncle, and cousins in Portland, Maine, Lena Haloway is very much looking forward to being cured and living a safe, predictable life. She watched love destroy her mother and isn’t about to make the same mistakes.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena meets enigmatic Alex, a boy from the Wilds who lives under the government’s radar. What will happen if they do the unthinkable and fall in love?

Based on this synopsis, I knew I was getting into what could be a sappy young adult love story, clichéd and unrealistic. The sale price of $4.99 for the Audible book, though, was one I couldn’t pass up even if the reader of the book was a bit annoying in my opinion. (Just a side note: if you drive a lot or even work a lot in the home, audible books are a great way to “read” a book while doing other things that don’t take up a lot of thought, i.e. driving the same route every day, cleaning the house, cooking dinner.) I wasn’t let down about my assumptions for a sappy, unrealistic, clichéd love story. However, it fit with the world around them.

The best thing about this book, and about most dystopian novels, is the world building that the author does. Oliver created this future world where love is considered a disease, and it was believable. Emotions are considered a negative, oftentimes illegal, thing. (The Giver, anyone?) How the people deal with this “fact” and respond to the teachings seemed realistic. You have those that will follow whatever they are taught. Indeed, most people will just believe what they are taught and will not question it because they haven’t been taught to think for themselves. You also have the people who rebel against the idea and the Cure for various reasons, most including experiences with love and other gushy emotions. Out of those people who are against the system for whatever reason, you have different factions. Some want to rebel against the system with as little loss as possible. Others want total anarchy and destruction. Others simply want to be left alone to live in the Wilds or in the deserted subway tunnels. And with all these people, Oliver does not overwhelm the reader as she introduces them. She seamlessly shows you the world without telling you about it, a skill all authors should strive for, and one that can be seen in The Hunger Games trilogy, the City of Bones series, and even The Selection series.

09a267748c64ff8f1379708316230c58I also loved a specific aspect of Oliver’s world-building. The people have a handbook called The Book of Shhh that shows the perils of “Amor Deliria Nervosa,” or falling in love. In it are various stories and “facts” that scare people about this deliria and propagates the necessity of the Cure. As with any propaganda, The Book of Shhh takes past stories and rewrites them for the purposes of eliminating love and emotions. My favorites include Biblical stories that are totally rewritten. For instance, in the “Story of Solomon” in The Book of Shhh two women claimed to be the mother of a baby. When neither would back down from this claim, King Solomon said the only fair thing to do was to cleave the baby in half so that both women could have at least half of the child. Because both women had the deliria, they agreed to let the baby be split in half and so it was. However, the true Bible does not tell this tale the same. The story was that one woman gave up her claim on the baby so that he was not cut in half. Solomon, seeing her sacrifice for the good of the baby, gave the child to that woman, rather than the woman who would not back down even when the baby’s life is threatened. This story is originally about sacrifice and love, though this just wouldn’t do for The Book of Shhh. Oliver delivers other such stories throughout the books, and I love this part of her world building along with the references to other stories, books, and poems.

Although I enjoyed the world building of Oliver, I thought the book was quite slow. It was an interesting premise, but the slow pace of the novel made it difficult to pay attention and to become enthralled with the plot. As I said earlier, I wasn’t looking forward to reading the other two novels in this trilogy after reading the first book. However, the second and third books were superior to the first. In the second book Pandemonium each chapter alternates between Lena right after the events of the first book and Lena working for the Resistance in a new city in the future. The simultaneous stories were interesting and helped break up the pace. One story may be a bit stagnant at parts, but the other story would be filled with action. The fact that Oliver could so seamlessly write both stories at once shows her prowess in writing.

The third book Requiem did a similar thing. Each chapter alternates between Lena after the events in Pandemonium and Hana, Lena’s best friend who she left behind, also in the present. The two different viewpoints and stories again made this book much more interesting than Delirium. I’m surprised by how much I did like the second and third books, as usually I consider the first book the best in most series.

I also hate to say but I didn’t really care for Lena or her love interest Alex. Lena was a boring character. As with many YA books, the main character was made to fit for every reader. She was plain with a flat personality so that young readers can see themselves in her and imprint their own personalities on her. However, Oliver went too far and made her too boring. Yes, she does change and grow stronger throughout the novels, but we start from nothing to work our way up. Plus, her moodiness and the love triangle that comes later is frustrating.

Alex was also boring to me and completely unbelievable. He fell for Lena while watching her run and seeing her joy when high-fiving a statue. Really? You just fell for her without even getting to know her? And when he does get to know her, her views are so saturated by the society and different from his that the love that blooms between them can only be, in my way of thinking, a physical one. Later, she follows and believes him with that doe-eyed trust that shows she’s not actually thinking for herself but just going along with Alex because of hormones. Ugh. Have I mentioned I don’t like the first book? The love is, as most young adult love is, vapid. It is not the strong love on which marriages are built; it is a quick and surface love on which teenage drama is built.

Would I recommend this book trilogy? Yep, especially if you don’t have anything else you want to read. If you’re craving more dystopian YA fiction, this will whet your appetite. Don’t expect a phenomenal storyline or an absence of clichés, but hopefully the artful world building and interesting ways Oliver presents the story will make up for those.

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I found this on the internet and have to agree with many of these recommendations. I’ve read most of these and would encourage you to read on! :)

 

Happy I Selected The Selection Series

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I’ve been in a young adult literature mood, so I decided to check out The Selection series from my library. The Selection series features America Singer, the protagonist, who is selected along with thirty-four other girls to go to the palace and try to win the heart of Prince Maxon Shreave and the crown of Illea, the country which now inhabits all of North America and parts of Central America. America, being stubborn in that oh-so-prominent YA literature way, does not want Maxon or the crown. However, she’s encouraged to go try out both by her family and by her boyfriend Aspen. The Selection series follows her journey in and out of love with Aspen and Maxon (love triangle trope, anyone?) and the process through which all the young women compete for love and the crown. Throw in the fact that there are now castes in this dystopian future and that America is from one of the lower ones, and sparks fly between not only competing girls but also with the stereotypes they all live with through their born-into castes.

These books are easy to read because of the reading level with a young adult book and go by quickly. The plot keeps moving so that one has a difficult time of putting the books down. These are typical YA fiction novels with the ever-present love triangle, the protagonist who stubbornly stands out among the rest, and a dystopian world. However, they’re not boring as one would think they would be with all of these YA literature clichés sprinkled throughout. The author Kiera Cass does a great job creating and building what could be a completely ridiculous premise for a book.

At first I wasn’t sure how I would like these books, which is why I hadn’t read them yet, but I’m glad I read them. I was afraid the girls would be portrayed as damsels in want of a husband, and while this is present, Cass does a great job of showing how this contest tears apart the girls as well and how they begin to build friendships amongst themselves rather than simply fighting all the time. Yes, there are definite female tropes throughout the book, such as the “Bitch Trope,” the “Rich Bitch Trope,” and the “Gold Digger Trope.” However, even some of these characters show themselves to be individuals rather than just the trope that they are. Not all of the girls do this obviously since there are thirty-five personalities to write to begin with, but Cass does a good job of making some of the girls actually feel like real people.

Initially I had problems with the idea of thirty-five girls competing for the love of one man. It was a bit too The Bachelor for me, and I expected there to be a rose ceremony. However, there are other things that happen in the plot to show that these girls aren’t all vapid females trying to catch a male and are capable of strength in tough situations. America especially shows that she is more than just a woman searching for a man as she weighs the idea of becoming a queen and whether she truly wants that responsibility. That does get frustrating, though, because of all the flip-flopping on her part. Does she want Maxon or Aspen? Does she want her old life back or the life at the palace? Does she want the responsibility of the queen or simply the responsibility of her old life? This uncertainty is common in a lot of YA fiction with female protagonists and can actually lead the reader to dislike the protagonist instead of root for her. In this series, however, I did root for America and her relationship with Maxon. She was annoying at times, but honestly, what teenager isn’t once in a while?

If you’re looking for an easy read for entertainment and will be OK with all the tropes and clichés found in YA fiction, this is a good read. The plot intensifies throughout the series, and in my opinion, the last published book The One is actually the strongest book in the series. It was worth my time, and I did enjoy the series.

Still Alice Stilled My Heart

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The third book in my two-person book/movie club is Lisa Genova’s Still Alice. This was a quick read and could easily be read in one day. However, it was difficult for me to get through in one sitting because of the subject – Alzheimer’s Disease. Alice, the main character, is a Harvard psychology professor with a husband, who also teaches at Harvard, and three kids. She finds out that at 50 years old she has early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease (EOAD). The book catalogs this character’s journey with EOAD. The book is informative and analytical about EOAD and written by an author who has clearly done her homework. While being both informative and analytical, Genova also weaves in an emotional thread. Her work is an eloquent, sensitive look into a devastating disease.

Although I love this book and the way Genova treats the protagonist and the subject, I had a difficult time reading it. I cried sporadically throughout the entire book and embarrassed myself reading it at a coffee shop (no one likes a public crier even if she is pregnant). I know I’m more emotional right now simply because of my pregnancy hormones, but I’m positive I would have had an emotional response to this book anyway. My grandfather had Alzheimer’s, and watching such a strong, loving man lose his cherished memories and abilities to do the simplest things was difficult to say the least. It got to the point where it was impossible for me to even go visit him, and although I did what was right for me at the time and I know he wouldn’t have known me, I regret not visiting him more. This book brought up those feelings all over again. Also, the struggle of knowing that AD is a hereditary disease is not easy. Both my mom and I have expressed concern over this fact. It didn’t help that one of the women with EOAD was named the same as my mother. It also doesn’t help that as I’m experiencing “pregnancy brain” I am forgetting simple words and tasks and am completely unaware of my surroundings at time. These are also characteristics of AD, and although I know I am simply pregnant not suffering from EOAD, I felt empathy towards Alice.

Alzheimer’s is a silent disease that progresses in a death march, slowly taking away bits and pieces of what and who one is. It is a disease that makes people uncomfortable being around people with it, as one repeats information and slowly forgets the people one loved. There is no known cure, although some medication may help slow down the symptoms. However, it doesn’t always help, and even if it does, it just slows the death march and doesn’t eliminate it. Alice thought the following:

“She wished she had cancer instead. She’d trade Alzheimer’s for cancer in a heartbeat. She felt ashamed for wishing this, and it was certainly a pointless bargaining, but she permitted the fantasy anyway. With cancer, she’d have something that she could fight. There was surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. There was the chance that she could win. Her family and the community at Harvard would rally behind her battle and consider it noble. And even if defeated in the end, she’d be able to look them knowingly in the eye and say good-bye before she left.” Pg. 117

How bad must living with AD be for one to wish for cancer instead? Although I know Alice is a fictional character, Alzherimer’s is not a fictional disease, so the book truly touched my heart. Genova, in turn, touched my heart with her sensitivity towards the subject matter and the naked truth of living with it.

My friend and I saw the movie this past weekend, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well the adaptation from the book was done. Of course some things were changed, like where Alice taught, but most of these changes were presumably either necessary because of a lack of permission to shoot on campus or for time restraints. The key parts of the book were included, like her thinking that she would rather have cancer, and the actors were well cast for this book adaptation. It’s not a movie that I would own, but it was worth a watch particularly after reading the book. I didn’t cry as much during the movie as I did with the book, but perhaps this was because I knew what was coming and/or how it’s easier for me to empathize with a character from a book than a movie. There’s just some kind of familiarity with actually reading the book.

If you’re looking for a moving, fictional book on a very real disease with strong characters and family dynamics, I highly recommend Still Alice. Don’t have time to read the book? Then watch the movie. You’ll still come away with the gist of the book.

My New Author Crush: Joe Hill

I don’t like the genre of horror. I said this before in my post on Horns. …Or maybe I do. Joe Hill, have you changed my taste in literature? Just when I thought I knew what I liked.

Let me backtrack. I read Joe Hill’s second published novel Horns at the beginning of this year because I wanted to watch the movie and refused to watch it without reading the book first. Plus, my good friend was also reading it. Score! Someone to talk to about the book almost always persuades me to read something. I loved Horns! It was so clever and deep and masterfully constructed. This was my first encounter with Joe Hill, and I couldn’t wait to read his other published novels, Heart-Shaped Box and NOS4A2.

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I just finished reading Heart-Shaped Box, his first published novel, and thoroughly enjoyed this gripping ghost story. It gave me chills with its subtleties. It kept me rooting for the protagonist. It was a grown-up ghost story that focused on the nuances of human relationships rather than solely the macabre. While I did see the big reveal coming, I was still engrossed with the novel. I would definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for a good ghost story that may make you turn on just another light at night and wonder what your dog is staring at. Seriously, Bella, why do you keep looking at that one spot? There’s nothing there. Stop freaking me out!

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After you read this, I would also recommend searching images for it. There’s some great fan art for this book.

I finished NOS4A2, Hill’s third published novel and biggest book clocking in at 686 pages, at the beginning of last week, and it was worth every page. I was impressed with how seamlessly Hill blended the fantastic with the mundane in a way that made it believable. The baddies in the book were truly horrific, but you could see how they thought they were actually doing something good (a fact for so many “bad guys”). Perhaps their belief that they were actually being altruistic was the thing that creeped me out the most. The protagonist was flawed wretchedly, and yet I still found myself cheering her on, hoping she would find what she needed. Every page contributed to the plot, and even though I did whine about having to read so much (I still had four library books waiting for me to read them at that point), I could not tell you what should have been cut. As twisted and gruesome as the world of NOS4A2 was, I actually enjoyed living there for a while. I immersed myself in that book, and I was glad to still have another Joe Hill novel to read after completing it.

So yeah, I guess I like horror now. Or at least Joe Hill’s horror. I would highly recommend both of these books, along with Horns, and while I haven’t read it yet, Hill’s collection of short stories entitled 20th Century Ghosts is probably worth a gander as well. Enjoy and maybe turn on an extra light…

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