Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Monday, February 14, 2011
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Revolution completely blew me away. Jennifer Donnelly has without a doubt written the best young adult novel of 2010. With beautifully crafted prose, this novel captures the heart and the mind and entangles them in the life of Andi Alpers, one of the most engaging protagonists to ever grace the pages of a novel. Andi and her eighteenth century counterpart Alexandrine’s struggles leap off the pages and truly draw the reader into the story. This folks is one of those novels that you read under your desk during class instead of balancing equations, even though you risk the wrath of your professor by doing so. It’s that good.
When we meet Andi Alpers, she is lost in grief. Her grades are falling, her heart is broken, and she just doesn’t know what to do with herself, except for playing her guitar. To top it off, she’s on the verge of being expelled. Enter the father that’s been absent from her life for months and months. He got a letter from the school about her abysmal grades, and now he wants to take her to Paris with him so he can make sure that she finishes the outline for her senior thesis. And he’s also putting her mother in a mental hospital. Sounds great, huh? Needless to say, Andi is very angry. Heck, I was angry for her when I read it. But when she gets to Paris she meets an amazing young man named Virgil and becomes entangled in the life of a young woman who died over two centuries before Andi was even born. This young woman of the French Revolution, Alexandrine Paradis, leads Andi on a journey that sets her on the path to healing the wound that has almost pushed her over the edge numerous times. The blend of modern and historical, fact and fiction, all adds up to create a novel like nothing else you’ve ever read.
Revolutions is so incredibly captivating that my attempt to review the main points of this novel turned into an entire re-reading. The moment I picked it up again, I just couldn’t put it down. The emotions, the history, the relationships, all seem so real. Immediately after finishing this book I began recommending it to everyone I know, from my best friend to my grandmother. The ending of this novel – it’s as far from floppy as you can possibly get. At first, I was a little bit saddened that Andi didn’t really get closure with her dad. But as her guitar instructor, Nathan, sagely tells her “This word closure…it is a stupid word, ja?” It wasn’t until after I read Revolution for the second time that I realized Andi really does make peace with her life and that maybe closure is a stupid word. The more I thought about it, the more I began to see applications in my own life. Everybody has their own pain, including me. I began to see that letting go of past suffering, but never closing the door on it, might be the best way to heal.
The big picture: Jennifer Donnelly created a masterpiece. Revolution truly transcends time, in more ways than one. Not just with its beautiful writing, captivating characters, or historic details, but with its ability to reach out and touch anyone who has ever felt lost.
*On a side note, reading this novel sparked an interest in the French Revolution that allowed me to better appreciate Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. After reading Revolution, I encourage anyone who did not like reading A Tale of Two Cities in school to give it another try.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Girl in the Arena has a good premise. A bit of dystopia, some Roman influence, and a mite of romance. However, (don’t you just hate howevers) the execution was a little lacking and the ending…ugh. To put it nicely, the ending qualifies as one of the floppiest flops of all time, in my very humble opinion. But Wait! I’m not saying you should give up on this book entirely. It’s definitely not a classic, but it does have some entertainment value. And what I consider to be a flop might not be what you consider to be a flop. One woman’s floppy ending is another woman’s not-so-floppy ending, or something like that.
To be fair, this book is fast-paced and exciting. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy reading it. From the initial introduction of Gladiator Sports Association (GSA) to heart wrenching deaths and a disturbing final showdown, the plot of this novel moves at the speed of light. So the score is evened up, minus one for floppy ending, plus one for fast-paced plot.
Granted, this book does address some of the problems we face in the US and other countries. For instance, violence. You can’t turn on the news or pick up a magazine without news of some war or tragedy slapping you across the face. And it’s hard to hear sirens without worrying that someone you care about is the victim in need of help. As if there isn’t enough violence in the world, people then go see movies where heads roll and pain is entertainment. It brings to mind the French Revolution, when beheadings were an event for the whole family to enjoy. Well, the family can once again enjoy violence together by watching the gladiators duke it out to the death. Sounds pretty coldhearted, right? But when you really think about it, the jump between our society and theirs really isn’t that far. Lyn, the main character, details the evolution of the sport from backyard games to death matches between death-row prisoners to the bloody center of American culture. As is the true purpose of dystopian literature, Girl in the Arena points out a path that society could take, and makes the reader reexamine the world around them. I think that deserves five points in favor of Girl in the Arena.
Now on to the main character, Lyn. First impression: I like Lyn, she’s a strong, independent young woman who truly loves her family. But then she had to go and fall for the guy who murdered her seventh father. The guy she was going to be forced to marry. (Okay, I love a good arranged marriage romance, but I like them set on the western frontier during the 1800s. And I don’t like it when the guy in question killed the girl’s father. Although this is the only book I’ve ever read where that happens.) So the romance in this novel, that’s minus two points. If I’m correct the score now stands at 4 for and 3 against.
For details on the floppy ending, you’ll really need to read the book yourself, but I just want to say something about willing suspension of disbelief. Magic and all sorts of crazy stuff can be believable in a story as long as it is realistic to the world in which it is created. That’s willing suspension of disbelief. But the ending of this novel…it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t fit into the world that the author created.
The big picture: Don’t write off Girl in the Arena, but if you’re looking for the next Katniss, you won’t find her here.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
*Readers should note that this is a work of adult fiction. Dust contains frequent use of coarse language and disturbing imagery.*
“Jessie’s gang is the Fly-by-Nights. She loves the ancient, skeletal Florian and his memories of time gone by. She’s in love with Joe, a maggot-infested corpse. They fight, hunt, dance together as one—something humans can never understand. There are dark places humans have learned to avoid, lest they run into the zombie gangs.
But now, Jessie and the Fly-by-Nights have seen new creatures in the woods—things not human and not zombie. A strange new illness has flamed up out of nowhere, causing the undeads to become more alive and the living to exist on the brink of death. As bits and pieces of the truth fall around Jessie, like the flesh off her bones, she’ll have to choose between looking away or staring down the madness—and hanging onto everything she has come to know as life…”
To Zombie or not to Zombie, that is the question. When it comes to the characters from Dust, it would be in your best interest not to mention the ‘z’ word. The Fly-by-Nights, the main zombie gang in this novel, live in the woods where they eat very fresh meat, fight amongst themselves, and complain about how much it itches to have bugs devouring their flesh. Sounds like your typical zombies, right? Wrong. Dust is a new zombie novel, one that will have you sympathizing with, even routing for these flesh devouring foes of humanity. In fact, Jessie, the engaging protagonist of this novel, is a zombie herself.
Jessie died nine years before this story starts, but she is still very much alive. She eats, sleeps, walks, and feels. She’s even in love. But she and her gang are most definitely not human. They prefer to eat flesh still warm with the heat of the dead animal, they can communicate telepathically, and they’re basically walking corpses.
In a grotesque way, the lives of these living-dead are absolutely fascinating. Sure, it takes a little while to get used to all the raw meat, fighting, and decomposing, but who can resist a good zombie novel, especially one with as much heart as Dust. Part one establishes the regular inner workings of the gang, and introduces the cast of characters. Part two is where things start to get fishy. Humans are starting to behave more like zombies and zombies are starting to behave more like humans. It’s unclear if either race will survive.
Dust is an adventure. Albeit a slightly disturbing one, an adventure none the less. A faced paced novel (frankly it’s a good one to read on the treadmill because it helps you lose track of time) that will keep you on your toes. Many of the harrowing final scenes had me bighting my nails, hoping against hope that Jessie would receive a happy ending.
The big picture: While Dust is not a novel for the faint of heart, it certainly brings an intriguing new slant to the world of zombie fiction.
Sequel Alert: The author announced that the sequel to Dust, Frail, should be arriving in a bookstore near you sometime during the next two years.
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Jane Eagland is one of the best historical novelists, ever. Her first novel, Wildthorn, blew me away, and Whisper My Name is even better. Both of her works have such twists and turns, such mystery – you just never know where the next page will take you. Her novels remind me a bit of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books. High praise indeed as they were very important to my childhood. I have no doubt that Whisper My Name is a novel that will pass the test of time. Its portrayal of Victorian London, its shocking mystery, its intrepid heroine, all create a book more than worth its weight in gold.
Whisper My Name achieves an amazing feet by appealing to both lovers of historical fiction and those who tend to avoid it. The plot is so enthralling that it’s easy to forget the genre of the work. However, it still contains various historical nuances that will appeal to the history lover. As the novel begins, Meriel, the heroine, has just lost her mother, been sent away by her father, and is now journeying to live with a grandfather she has never met. While her grandfather turns out to be just as cold and distant as he is odd, Meriel finds a friend in a maid named Sally and a medium named Sophie. With their help, she begins to unravel a mystery that could change her life…
Meriel is the perfect protagonist for this novel, flawed, but with her heart in the right place. It’s easy to take her side against the injustices dished up by her grandfather and to cheer her on in all her endeavors. Behind her stands a memorable cast of characters who truly enrich the story. I have to say that Sophie, the reluctant medium, is my favorite character in this novel. She is just one of those people who are truly, truly good at heart. Sophie offers quiet support and friendship to Meriel, even when she might face unpleasant consequences for her actions. She just might be the most perfect friend who ever existed (besides my BFF, of course).
The big picture: Whisper My Name is historical fiction for the most ardent history lovers and those who avoid the genre at all costs. It has an intriguing plot full of twists and turns and well-crafted writing. Jane Eagland is an author to watch.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
“Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love - the deliria - blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the governments demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.
But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.”
With this novel, Lauren Oliver has perhaps perfected the genre of dystopia. Delirium contains the perfect balance of classic dystopian traits and wholly unique storytelling. Though Delirium is only one in the plethora of recently released dystopian fiction for young adults, it centers on a theme left behind by many, love. Many of you are thinking that The Hunger Games or perhaps Matched deal with love, but Delirium takes the topic to a whole new level. In the cities, a medical procedure has almost entirely eradicated love in citizens eighteen years and older. Love, or amor deliria nervosa, is regarded as a disease. And so the stage is set for the entrance of our heroine, Lena Haloway.
Lena is no Katniss, but she certainly gained my respect. Reared to fear love, Lena must reevaluate everything she believes in when she begins to exhibit signs of the deliria. Lauren Oliver portrays the conflicted emotions that plague Lena so vividly that readers truly experience her journey as if it were their own. Fear, elation, wonder, sadness, all of these feelings and more leap from the page.
This novel may focus on love, but adventure isn’t far behind. Lena weaves in and out of many a dangerous situation. From narrowly escaping a few brushes with the law, to entering the scariest prison short of Azkaban, Lena’s adventures will keep anyone on their toes.
Delirium is truly a well-crafted novel. The depth of emotion and the spot-on writing set this novel apart. My only complaint is the cliffhanger ending. There is nothing more irritating than being left hanging after you have become entirely engrossed in a story. On the bright side, the cliffhanger means that a few more novels will be coming our way.
In October, Lauren Oliver announced that the next two titles in the Delirium trilogy will be Pandemonium and Requiem. I can’t wait for the next installment in Lena’s story!
The big picture: Delirium is the best dystopian novel since Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451. With vivid prose, an engaging character, and a plot that could set a dead man’s heart racing, Delirium goes above and beyond the average teen novel.
*A huge thanks to HarperCollins for providing me with an ARC of this fabulous novel.