Independent Study (by Joelle Charbonneau)

25 03 2014

independentstudyIndependent Study is the 2nd book in The Testing trilogy. The plotline is predictable: just more Testing like Catching Fire was just more Hunger Games but in a different arena. It’s almost formulaic dystopia: blend Divergent together with Hunger Games and you get The Testing. It features stereotypical main characters: (too) intelligent & perfect female main character who asks all.the.right.questions.all.the.time. There’s really nothing original or groundbreaking in this book what.so.ever. But it’s also highly entertaining, a fun ride (although lacking somewhat in the action department, which seems to be symptomatic of middle book syndrome) and a sure winner with reluctant readers. So yeah, Charbonneau sucked me in.

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My Friend Dahmer / The Darkest Minds

28 01 2014

Work, work and more work getting in the way of the most important stuff…

… reading. So: impressions of books, rather than actual reviews of books.

 

My friend Dahmer (by Derf Backderf)

my friend dahmerI was too young to experience the whole Dahmer-thing consciously. Obviously during my own ‘fascinated by serial killers’ phase (doesn’t everyone have one?), the name Dahmer was a chiller. Derf Backderf went to the same high school as Jeffrey Dahmer and after Dahmer got arrested, Backderf – a talented graphic artist – started to put his memories of his “Friend Dahmer” to paper in the form of his own artwork (in all seriousness, Dahmer really wasn’t “a friend” at all, that much is clear from this book).

Actually, Backderf already started to draw Dahmer when he was in highschool… Dahmer was a weird kid, who seemed to just exist and was a total social outcast at first, but then became an almost raving lunatic impersonating his mother’s interior decorator, and who ended up as the school drunk (which Backderf sees as a severe coping mechanism, especially after Dahmer discovers his sexual preferences) whom people tried to avoid at all cost.

Yes, people (adults) should have seen that something was off with Dahmer, but aren’t there tons of weird kids in a high school? How many of them end up as serial killers? It’s a telling fact that when Backderf was notified of the fact that one of his high school classmates was arrested for murdering all these people, his first guess *wasn’t* Dahmer, but another one of his classmates…

Anyone reading this book expecting a sensationalist account of Dahmer’s crimes, look elsewhere. My Friend Dahmer is all about Dahmer’s disturbing home life, Dahmer in high school and how he was perceived by classmates but also how he was used by his classmates. Backderf doesn’t just rely on his own memory, though, he also did a ton of research into Dahmer’s family and teenage life. Backderf is also quite insistent that his novel is not about ‘making excuses’ for Dahmer’s crimes. Yes, you can feel pity for Dahmer up until his first murder, but that’s where empathy and pity stop for Backderf. What Backderf is trying to do is finding reasons, or at least, contributing reasons for what Dahmer did.

My main ‘objection’ to this graphic novel / memoir has nothing to do with the artwork (which is really in line with the topic: quite expressionistic and slightly grotesque). It is with the amount of meta-text. OK, this is partly a memoir and partly a journalistic effort, but I didn’t actually need all the “explanations” to piece together what was going on in this novel. If what is written as meta-text is there to make the reader think about e.g. nature vs. nurture, well, even then, I didn’t need it. As I said, the drawings are quite expressionistic and tell a tale. Dialogue can convey a lot, and then meta-text is just too much. In other words, I think that Backderf is a much better graphic artist and illustrator than he is a writer… but, hey, that’s just me, right? James Ellroy seemed to dig this book a lot, so choose who you want to believe 😉

3.5 stars

 

The Darkest Minds (by Alexandra Bracken)

darkestmindsThis book combines a number of tropes that have been popular in the last couple of years: dystopian and/or apocalyptic madness, psychic or otherwise supergifted kids (sometimes even locked up), a romance that might be (or not) and a whole lot of running around that may or may not amount to anything. Rather than being wholly unoriginal, however, Bracken has enough talent to pull things together somewhat… But, despite the fact that it’s clocking in a hefty 488 pages, there are on the one hand elements at the heart of this book that clearly needed to be explored more (the weird disease IAAN that affects kids but not adults and why ‘governments’ don’t try to find the cause etc. etc.). At the same time, though, this book also could have used a big comb to weed out some of its needless inconsistencies and superfluous ‘running around scenes’… No, running around does not speed up the action but slows things down and it definitely did not increase the tension (messy comes to mind). This book – and this writer – shows a lot of promise but needs just that final push to get me on the edge of my seat…

3 stars

 





December 2013 Reads (Not A List Yet! Ha!)

11 12 2013

Fall for Anything (by Courtney Summers)

fallforanythingAh, for once a Courtney Summers book the cat clicked with. In uncharacteristic Summers fashion, the protagonist of Fall for Anything, Eddie Reeves is fragile from the get-go. Eddie’s father (a once famous within certain circles photographer) committed suicide, leaving her and her mother guessing about the reasons and dealing with the grief. And that grief is what is now consuming Eddie and all the relationships she has: the not-relationship with her mother, the one with best friend Milo, and the one with the mysterious (and creepy) Culler Evans, her father’s (only) ‘student’. The whole grieving process – which almost takes on a whodunit pattern – is described in all its devastating rawness: confusion, guilt, betrayal, anger, depression, it’s all there, and Summers is a good writer, so yeah, I actually got this one…

4 stars

Legend (by Marie Lu)

legendMarie Lu’s Legend trilogy is one that I’ve had for a long time, but due to dystopia-fatigue, I never quite got around to reading it. Set in Los Angeles in the Republic of America in the year 2130, Legend is told alternately from Day and June’s point of view. Day is the 15-year-old boy who, after he failed his Trial at age 10, went underground, wreaking havoc on the Republic. June, on the other hand, scored the only perfect 1500 score on her Trial and has been the Republic’s golden child ever since. Obviously their paths cross. Legend is not revolutionary in any way, ahs *all* of the stock tropes but in light version, the storyline is predictable, the characters are almost stereotypical, but the action is paced throughout the book quite evenly and the writing is engaging enough to keep you going. It’s a ‘fun’, no-nonsense ditty while it lasts. It’s also the ideal book to give to reluctant readers: not too long, not too complicated, some action, some romance, … so again, yeah, I get the appeal, but you know…dystopian fatigue and all that…

3 stars





Allegiant (by Veronica Roth)

4 12 2013

allegiantHow hard it is for *all* the books in a series to kick ass (and I’m not even talking about middle-book syndrome) is proven once again with Veronica Roth’s Allegiance. Divergent did kick some monumental butt, if you’re into no-thinking-too-hard-fun-entertainment-dystopian-adventure: it had a fierce protagonist in Tris, a fairly exciting love interest with Four/Tobias, it had action and adventure galore and the drive of the characters themselves was easily matched by the excellent pacing of the book. Divergent: SOOOO much fun! Insurgent, on the other hand, already totally disappointed in the pacing department: lots of running around, doing something, running around again, doing something again, all with very little focus. Result? A boring follow-up.

Allegiant, however, is even worse. Not only is the pacing in this book completely off – why have a 529-page book I wonder, when so little really matters or advances the plot significantly? – but what made the characters so kick ass to begin with, is completely undone by 2 things:

First, the weird choice to have a dual narrative all of a sudden: Tris and Tobias. Dual narratives are tricky, especially in the hands of an inexperienced (or not so gifted?) writer. The trick is to make sure that the voice of the narrators differs considerably enough so as to persuade the reader that, yes, this is another character seeing and experiencing things. That is not the case here. There is virtually nothing that distinguishes the voices of Tris and Tobias. I had to check repeatedly…who am I reading here? Never a good sign…  Also, the dual narrative thing? Totally spoils your Big Ending, duh!

Second, undercutting the elements that made your main characters so kick ass in the first place. Seriously, Tobias? Wuss much? WTF is going on here?  Does he even know what he wants? And Tris? OK, I get the stubborn bit of her character, ‘cause that’s what she does, but here we get petty jealousy behavior, and when she’s called on it (by Tobias), she basically shuts him out “you’re wrong, I’m right, accept it”. Then 2 minutes later, it’s kiss and make up time? Uhm.. yeah, way to go. Also, seriously, Tris: Little Miss Perfect much?  Talk about one-dimensionality!

Also, this is supposed to be the conclusion to a series, right? So why on earth would you want to drag things out and introduce completely new elements (the whole genetics things, which is a) too ridiculously explained to make it believable, b) too much of a bother to explain here anyway), new characters who contribute NOTHING to the overall scheme of things (kill’em off? Oh, you did? See me care…) I mean, even the whole ‘Allegiant’-thing is not even what this book was about?  Really? Why would this then be the title of your book? Seriously, why not just focus on… oh, I don’t know: the conflict between the factions and the factionless? I get it…it totally makes more sense to introduce a new conflict between Genetically Pure and Genetically Damaged…. :::sigh:::…

And the plotholes, OMFG, they are the size of Chris Carter’s ego! But more than just having plotholes, in hindsight, the plot and the worldbuilding was always so convoluted that it’s no surprise Roth got trapped in it herself. Does any of what happened in this book even make sense? I mean, look at it objectively. Do the math…or the science, whatever…

So no, it’s not the ending that makes this a weak book (I didn’t even care at that point, no emotions at all with regards to The Big Surprise). It’s all of the above: perspective, pacing, character err… assassination, plotholes. Maybe with Allegiant, the whole “dystopian hype” has finally died too… One can always wonder. Oh, that’s right, Hollywood first needs to milk the cashcow for another movie or 3… who knows, maybe they’ll also split this book in two like they’re doing with Mockingjay… :::insert massive eyeroll here:::.





Three books that didn’t work for the cat (October 2013)

28 10 2013

The Infinite Moment of Us (by Lauren Myracle)

imou… and I don’t see how this book could work for anyone out there, really!

Where is the gorgeous scorching prose we got in Shine? Where is the nuanced characterization of Shine? Where’s the plot for that matter? Seriously, as brilliant as I thought Shine was, as cringe-worthily bad I thought this was. This book disappointed me on so many levels: point of view (dual 3rd person narration), pacing (time-lapses), the one-dimensional insta-love romance between the annoyingly selfish Wren and the too-good-to-be-true yet immensely troubled kid with a past Charlie, the language (which borders on fanfiction level!)…

The Infinite Moment of Us tells the supposedly epic love story of Wren and Charlie, alternating their points of view in each chapter. Their relationship – which just happens to be, by the way, one of the most excruciating examples of insta-love ever – develops over the course of the summer of their high school graduation. Wren is the good girl, the one who’s been pleasing her parents like for forever and who is destined for the great future her parents have mapped out for her. Except, now she decides she wants to do it her own way and has enrolled in a program that will take her to Guatemala for a year. Charlie is the (obviously gorgeous) misfit foster kid with the troubled past who’s got a pretty good life now, except for the crazy ex “on again, off again”-girlfriend, Starla.

I guess this book is set up as a Forever for today’s teens, including the different sexual mores. Yes, Charlie and Wren have a sexual relationship, and obviously, these kids being 18 and all, that’s only natural. So, no, the cat didn’t mind that.  What I did mind was the language use of the writer here, which was way below par and bordered on fan fiction. I totally hated the whole ‘baby’ here and ‘baby’ there thing that Charlie dished out, which just sounded so incredibly fake and put me off the entire romance thing: ugh!  And seriously, the character clichés…. pfffff…  just no!

The focus, for that matter, in the 2nd half of the book, was way too much on the sexual relationship between Wren and Charlie and not enough on Wren becoming her own person (or Charlie being his own person). It just seemed that Wren exchanged one controlling relationship (her parents’ control over her) for another, rather than doing what she said she wanted: to break free and discover herself!  It didn’t really do the book much good that there were these time lapses, either. Like one moment they have sex for the first time and then we just jump to “weeks later” where they’ve been at it like bunnies, but we haven’t really been partial to anything else that went on in their lives?? Pacing? What of it?

I dunno, maybe Shine really was a fluke. I haven’t even discussed the way certain plot aspects just don’t make any sense and aren’t developed really… And maybe I just don’t get this New Adult thing (I mean, seriously, is that what this is supposed to be?). No, sometimes it’s easy: there are good books and there are bad books, regardless of genre or target audience. This book right here: one of the worst I’ve read all year.

1.5 star

Ghostopolis (by Doug TenNapel)

ghostopolisDoug TenNapel’s graphic novel Ghostopolis may look alright at first (the graphics are fairly good), but it’s totally lacking in plot and character development and the dialogue is just a wee bit too simple for my taste.  Garth is dying of a mysterious fatal disease, but when ghostwrangler Frank botches up his job, Garth is accidentally zapped into the afterlife. When he’s there, he manages to ‘tame’ a skeleton horse he calls Skinny, and tries to find a way out, accompanied by his dead grandfather, Cecil – who he happens to meet there. At the same time, Frank goes after him, joined by his former fiancée Claire Voyant. There are lots of unexplained events happening in this graphic novel (why does someone like Grant have so much power in the afterlife? What happened between Frank and Claire?), lots of loose threads (What ever happened to Joe?) and even some Christian references, which all in all makes of Ghostopolis a confusing and hard to pin down graphic novel. Ultimately, it just didn’t work for me: not funny enough, not different enough,  not developed enough… Too messy, too random and just too superficial.

2 stars

 

After the Snow (by S.D. Crockett)

afterthesnowI read that this book is likened to Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go… but the only thing that the two vaguely have in common is the ‘different’ vernacular of their main character and narrator. Unlike in the Chaos Walking trilogy, the plot in After the Snow is not going ANYWHERE!  After the Snow is a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, set sometime in the future, ‘after the snow’.  When Willo returns home from hunting one day he finds out that his family is gone and the cabin where they live up in the mountains is empty.  Intent on finding his family he sets out to talk to talk to Geraint, his (14-year-old) sister’s husband, who will know where they are. But on his way, he finds Mary, whose father is lost and who is starving to death. Willo knows that he should leave her alone and just take care of himself, but he doesn’t.

Seriously, after Willo ends up in the city (and Mary isn’t with him anymore for some reason), I have no clue what’s going on anymore and I don’t really get what Willo’s aims are at that point. If you can tell me, please, by all means, drop me a note…  So many things that are introduced in the beginning of the novel (like Willo and talking with the dog skull) are just dropped after a while, and then the main character ends up having completely different priorities. Weird much?

This book has such an interesting premise and there’s so much potential (it could be The Road meeting Chaos Walking!), but instead it is just a royal mess and feels like the author just skipped a couple of important steps to get to an almost predictably obvious conclusion.

2 stars

 





The Giver (by Lois Lowry)

8 10 2013

The_Giver_CoverMore than 25 years after its initial publication, Lois Lowry’s The Giver still holds up as a decent initiation into dystopian MG or YA fiction. However, at the same time, it seems more of an ‘important work’ than a ‘great work’.

There’s no denying that Lowry’s vision in The Giver is still contemporary. The string of dystopian YA novels – Hunger Games, Divergent, to name just the two most obvious series – that has been so incredibly popular with teens in the last so many years proves this. But the book itself – as a standalone, that is – doesn’t really feel very ‘completed’. There’s a more than sufficient build up in the book, fairly slow even, as Lowry introduces her readers to most aspects of the Community and its rules as a rationalization of things to come. Once Jonas meets the Giver, though, the book rushes towards a conclusion, which in and of itself is meaningful (though obviously to be taken with a big grain of symbolism), but I can’t shake the impression that there was more to be done with this book.  It’s true that the picture that is painted here is very black and white (no pun intended, btw), and doesn’t really allow for many shades of grey or color… despite the many issues that are raised! There’s some blatant moralizing going on in this book too, which obviously needs to be put in a certain context, which Lowry in this book does not really provide (maybe she does that in the sequels?).

Anyway, undoubtedly, this is an important book: a book that many a contemporary dystopian MG or YA book (series) shows allegiance to in some way. It may have been newish in 1993 – although Orwell wrote much of the same in his 1984 (in 1949!), obviously – but as far as dystopian MG/YA novels go, there are series out now that far surpass Lowry’s The Giver!





Pandemonium (by Lauren Oliver)

4 11 2012

Pandemonium is the 2nd book in Lauren Oliver’s dystopian Delirium trilogy. It’s no secret the cat didn’t much care for Delirium, because she found it too much a waste of Oliver’s talent and too much of an easy marketing ploy to hop onto the dystopian bandwagon… but since it’s a trilogy, we were stuck with Delirium for 2 more books, and Pandemonium doesn’t really leave much room to breathe either. We’re thrown smack into the middle of the action, which makes it absolutely necessary to brush up on your Delirium before you delve into this sequel.

Pandemonium is divided into two storylines: Then and Now. In Then we learn about Lena’s time in the Wilds right after she’s escaped Portland. She has to deal with the fact that Alex didn’t make it, and the harsh circumstances of life in the Wilds. In Now, Lena seems to be back in her old oppressive society (in New York this time), but she’s clearly been hardened by her experiences in the wilds and she’s undercover, working for the rebels. In the Now storyline Lena ends up being ‘taken’ by Scavengers (also society outcasts, but not like the resistance Lena’s been staying with) together with a boy called Julian Fineman, who’s a token for the DFA (Delirium Free America). In the Then storyline we learn about what it takes for Lena to end up being the girl who can go undercover for the resistance: a girl who’s lost her love Alex, a girl who had to struggle to get out of her love-less society in the first place only to end up in a place where love is not key, but survival is, and surviving is harsh, survival means running, means fighting, means overcoming everything you thought you’d overcome already by escaping.

It’s refreshing to read how Lena – the dull and passive character – is capable of growth and change in that respect. Not only has she learnt that being passive will not save her, she’s also learning how to live in a world without Alex, in a world where she has to get into the middle of the action, not a world she just gets thrown into because of the ‘love for a boy’. No, it’s all about Lena and her survival now. I liked the emotional yet strong Lena of Pandemonium much more than the meek and placid Lena of Delirium. The interaction that Lena has with the other characters – both in Then and in Now – comes off as a lot more realistic and is consequently more believable than the feelings of Lena & Alex in Delirium, mainly because there was never any buildup to these feelings in Delirium. In Pandemonium you get a reasonable justification for what Lena feels and the way she interacts with the other characters. So in terms of character development, the cat much prefers Pandemonium – up until the last page, the last word even of the book, which – even though it was predictable as hell (love triangles in dystopias and all that, … :::sigh::: why oh why???…)  – just felt as a complete disappointment.

In any case, reading Pandemonium was a much better experience that Delirium was – even despite the total copout ending – none in the least because of Oliver’s sumptuous writing style. Lauren Oliver has a knack for the descriptive and the emotional in her language, and yet again it works a charm. So far, though, Delirium pretty much ‘fits the dystopia formula’… which is for fans of the genre two big thumbs up, but for as many other readers a big letdown. Why would you want to do everything that other sets of books also do?








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