Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Thoughts on Post-Apocalyptic and Dystopian Novels

Ashfall (Ashfall, #1)A dystopian society is the opposite of a perfect (utopian) society. Typically something terrifying has happened and the world is essentially in shambles. Maybe radiation killed most of Earth's life, leaving mutants to try to make their way in a destroyed world. Maybe tropical storms have destroyed most of the major cities or a plague is systematically destroying the human races as survivors struggle to find a cure. Maybe the rising ocean has finally covered most of the planet's land in water. Maybe the world has been overrun by aliens or zombies or angels or beings from another dimension. Scattered clumps of survivors fight to cling on, or people wander around in a haze, content to do whatever the totalitarian government says.
Dark Life (Dark Life, #1)
Dystopia is a way of presenting dire possibilities for our societies, and using it to reflect the how humans (both individual people, and an overall society) respond to the extreme pressures. The world in a good dystopia is vivid. The author has to paint a picture, like in the same way a fantasy or science fiction author would (dystopia is generally sci-fi or fantasy or a mix thereof). So good dystopian authors can produce a lot of beautifully terrifying worlds.

Enclave (Razorland, #1)I really like dystopia. In addition to the worlds that are created, and the story of how the world ended, but we get to see humanity as it struggles. We get to see how humans react to the desperation. It's a great analysis of humanity.

Legend (Legend, #1)In the post-apocalyptic novels I love, you see humanity at it's worst. People are desperate and doing horrible things to survive. You see the worst of us and that we can all be monsters. But you also see some of the best. You see people rising above everything, and some how managing to find something to hold onto in spite of it all. Somehow finding a reason to keep going, to keep being human. Whether its giving half of their meal to a starving animal or showing mercy to an enemy, or finding a way to forgive themselves. They find a way to be better, to do what is right, and fight against the overwhelming odds. Those are the stories that keep me coming back. That willingness to stand up when everyone else is bowing down. The willingness to hold onto the idea of living instead of just surviving. The way that the characters are resilient, and hold onto their beliefs and will to fight for those beliefs. That hope that, no matter how small and shaken, perseveres.

Cinder (Lunar Chronicles, #1)There are a lot of dystopian stories that don't have that element of hope and endurance. These are meant to be cautionary tales, but I find they don't make me want to change. I read Brave New World, and in that story nothing changed, and our characters gave up. And I just felt defeated. I didn't feel like I could do anything to avoid an eventuality like the one depicted in the story. It isn't because it is a horrible book, or that it is badly written. I just didn't like it. Endless despair doesn't work for me. I just shut it out, because if the characters don't have a will to carry on, why should I?
Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, #1)
I guess I've got a soft spot of the hero type. The ones who keep fighting for what is right even when their faith is shaken and they are down on their knees. The ones that show, no matter how much horrible has happened, there is still love and compassion and hope. I suppose that, as pessimistic as I can be, I want to believe that humans are good. I have to believe that.

Am I a sap or what?

Harry Potter Re-read Week: Day 1

So today I'm supposed to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Talk about a trip down memory lane. I haven't actually started yet because I'm a procrastinator like that.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)
This is the copy that I have. It isn't the one I originally read. That book was from the library, and my mother and father took turns reading it to me. It was the first "real" novel that I decided to read on my own. I must have been at most seven. I bought a copy afterward. It then got destroyed and my sister picked up an identical one secondhand. This version is paperback, and 332 pages long. I hope I'll be able to finish it tonight.
This isn't the first time I've reread this series. In a lot of ways, it was my childhood. I love these books. They probably had an effect on who I became as a person. Unlike a lot of people, it wasn't the book that got me into reading -I was a reader before that. But I loved these books and I still do. I believe that this is a book parents should introduce their children to this story -and if you give me the "it is satanic" shtick, well, you're entitled to your opinion, and I am equally entitled to think you're completely wrong. I mean this is a story about doing what is right and good, not matter how easy it is to do what is wrong, and the power of love and friendship and hope. And that's a really important message for people, especially kids. Besides the big message, there are all sorts of wonderful little messages. And magic and humour and amazingness. 

Yep, I should start reading soon. Or I won't be sleeping until a past midnight.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: Orleans

OrleansTitle: Orleans
Author:Sherri L. Smith
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic

Why I Read It: I haven't read anything dystopic in a while, so I figured I would give this a go. There was also quite a bit of buzz about this one.

A Quick Intro: It has been years since a series of incredibly destructive tropical storms, and a disease called Delta Fever led to the quarantine of New Orleans and the surrounding area. The survivors are divided into tribes by blood type (this slows the spread of the fever), and blood hunting is rampant, since blood transfusions are the only way to slow the advance of the infection (for those infected). Fen is and O-positive, and after her tribe is attacked, only she and a newborn escape. Daniel comes over the quarantine wall looking for a way to clear the Fever, expecting a few struggling survivors, not a primitive civilization.

What I Thought: I wasn't really a fan of this one. I found that I really wasn't attached to the story, or the characters. They just irked me. I'm not saying that they weren't characters with depth, or that they were poorly written, I just found them annoying. I couldn't really root for them.

My other issue was that it didn't really feel like there was a climax. It was just one random event after another, to the point where, when there was some sort of a revelation, betrayal, or some such, I just sort of responded with "Oh, well, another thing happened, there is still basically no hope. Huh. Too bad.". The plot sort of meandered.

There wasn't much hope in this book. This is more a personal preference, but I prefer there to be some sort of hope in my stories. A reason to carry on reading. This book became sort of... resigned. Which didn't really work for me.

So in the end, this book was kind of hard slogging for me. By the end I felt like I was reading for the sake of reading words on a page. I wasn't really curious about how the book would end. This wasn't really a book for me.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Review: The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio RacesTitle: The Scorpio Races
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure

Why I Read It: It was recommended to me by a friend after I mentioned wanting more books with kelpies. Haley if you're reading this, thanks. I'm a horse lover, so this is right up my alley.

A Quick Intro: Novembers in Thisby are lethal. In the weeks leading up to the first of November, the water horses come up out of the sea. The capaill uisce are carnivorous, wild and drawn to the ocean. Every year, the islanders mount the horses, and attempt to back them long enough to run in the Scorpio Races. Kate "Puck" Connolly never planned to ride in the races, but circumstances forced her into the races, the first girl ever to ride. Sean Kendrick has cheated death in the races several times. He and Puck both have a lot to lose if they don't win the races- if they even make it out alive.

Review: I really liked this one. Like I said before, I'm a horse person, so I loved that element of the book. Puck's bond with Dove was wonderful, the amount of faith she has in her horse is an amazing thing. I loved the capaill uisce (they're from the same brand of myth kelpies- magical water horses that drag their riders down and devour them). I loved the brutal, wild quality of the horses, and how much Sean connects with the water horses, and especially his horse, Corr. I liked the subtle magic of the horses. The challenges that both Sean and Puck faced were rough, and I really rooted for them. I liked both of them a lot. The ending wasn't perfect either, its bittersweet, which I really liked, because nothing really is perfect.

I adore the main characters, both of them. They're wonderful. Puck is very much an individual, and she's brave and determined, though not unafraid. Sean as more reserved, but there's a lot of depth to his character, and a lot of thoughts and desires that he never reveals to the rest of the world. They were both very much people, as well as parts of the island. I loved them both, and I loved how their relationship developed. Maggie Stiefvater also gives us a plethora of secondary characters, and, whether I liked or disliked them as people, they were very well done characters, with their own personalities and quirks.

I love the writing in this book so much. It's beautiful and almost rough, it just fits the story so well. I really felt myself in the world of Thisby. It really pulled me in. The town itself has a personality, which I found really delightful. It came alive, and almost had a life of it's own- like there's always a suggestion that more than is mentioned to the reader is going on with everyone on the island. It breathed right off the page. I think I have a crush on an island. The story is told in alternating first person between Puck and Sean, which was effective because it showed different aspects of the island.

Overall, I love this one. It just struck all of the right chords with me as a person and was overall a wonderful piece of storytelling. This is a world that I really look forward to returning to in re-reads. Which will doubtless happen frequently.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Review: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Mara Dyer, #1)Title: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and The Evolution of Mara Dyer
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Paranormal
Series: The Mara Dyer Trilogy
Volume: 1

Why I Read It: Can we talk about the covers? The covers are so lovely and mysterious. For Unbecoming you can't really tell what is going on. I'm not typically fond of photo-covers, but these are so wonderfully atmospheric and suit the series well. So that's why. I also haven't heard anyone dislike the overall series.

A Quick Intro: Mara Dyer wakes up in a hospital, unharmed after a building collapse that killed her best friend, her boyfriend and her boyfriend's sister, with no memory of the accident. After she is released from the hospital, she and her family move to a new town without all of the memories. But the memories don't seem to want to let Mara go, and she's seeing and hearing things that aren't there. Her mind feels like its fragmenting, and she can't always tell what is real anymore.

What I Thought: I went through this one really fast. It is over four hundred pages, and I went through it in less than a day. It was suspenseful, and by the end, there were some scenes which I wasn't sure were real or not. There was a really sense that Mara may or may not have been losing her mind. We don't really get very many answers in this one. At the end of this one (trying to dance around spoilers here) I sort of reserved judgement on Noah. There are aspects of his character that I liked, and there are parts I wasn't so sure about- I would like to hear more about him, and he's certainly more of a mess than he lets on, so I would like  to hear more about that. (I'm speaking in some weird combination of past and present tense here, because I have since read The Evolution of Mara Dyer, and so know a little about what is to come).

A Fact: Mental illness is actually quite common- about one in five people will be affected by some form of mental illness at some time in their life.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #1)Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Volume: 1

Why I Read It: The first attempt? I like fantasy. The second attempt? A friend of mine encouraged me to give it another go. And I finished it this time.

A Quick Intro: Karou isn't a normal girl. She has blue hair (naturally blue- it grows out of her head that colour) and lives in a space-traveling travelling house with four creatures call chimera. She collects teeth for the said chimera, and has had eyes tattooed on her hands ever since she can remember. Her life is about to get even stranger- now burning hand prints are appearing on doors all over the world, as are rumours of the appearance of angels.

What I Thought: Laini Taylor has created quite an imaginative world. I'll hand her that right away, before I say anything else. As I mentioned, it took me two tries to get through it. I was incredibly put off of hearing about Karou's character in the beginning. She just seemed petty, and after about five pages I was sick of hearing about the ex-boyfriend. I was really only pulled in once we actually got the angels involved, and into the story. I'm still not in love with Karou's character, but I'm willing to pick up Days of Blood and Starlight. The world Laini Taylor creates is very engaging. I was glad of Zuzana and Mik were present to add an outside element, but when Karou came back to them for a little while it came a little disjointed. They way teeth are used in the magic are a fascinating, and suitably gruesome, which was actually lovely.  The world redeemed it for me, and I was pulled into Akiva and Madrigal's story (I won't say anything more, because spoilers), I wanted to know how their story ended (besides horribly). The element of darkness in the story was nice. It was a different kind of atmosphere than in books that I am used to. I don't really have too much to say about this book without the enormous spoilers.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Review: Masque of Red Death

Masque of the Red Death (Masque of the Red Death, #1)Title: Masque of Red Death
Author: Bethany Griffin
Series: Masque of Red Death
Volume: 1

Why I Read It: I do love a dystopian novel.

A Quick Summary: Araby lives in a world ravaged by deadly disease. Very rarely is anyone seen without the masks that filter the air- keeping them alive. Araby's dad invented these masks. She lives for parties, numbing nights at the Debauchery club, where she can forget, at least for a little while, her feelings of grief and guilt. But instead of oblivion, she finds rebellion.

What I Thought: Meh. This wasn't one for me.

I wasn't all that fond of Araby's character. I know she feels really guilty about the thing with her brother and the mask, but her response seemed kind of odd. What she does as a coping method- the parties, the drugs- seem to add more things for her to feel guilty about. Admittedly, her family haven't been all that helpful to her- her mother is timid and her father is distant. Araby doesn't have a purpose at the beginning, and this rebellion gives her that purpose.

The male love interests weren't all that interesting to me. Elliot is running the rebellion and Will is raising his siblings. This was one of those love triangles where, for the most part, I don't understand what these characters see in each other (I know that seems to happen a lot- I guess I'm picky). Araby seems to be a somewhat weak character- every time I thought that she was going to face herself, or make her decisions, she would dither or turn to the drugs. I can only assume that this is a futuristic kind of drug, she doesn't usually seem to be an addict, but she uses it to avoid handling her situation. She makes impulsive decisions, almost deliberately throws herself into bad situations and refuses to confront anything that has happened as a result of her choices. I hoped that her part in the rebellion would make her more aware, but I found that it didn't really. She seemed to be a very defeated character for much of the book.

The world in which she lives, is pretty far gone. Living in the city is miserable, people are dying and the government isn't trying to stop it. Outside of the city, it is unclear if anyone is left alive. For all they know, they are the last of humanity- and the city itself is dying. Slowly. Which, I suppose, goes a ways toward explaining Araby's mental state. Its much more defeated than many worlds in YA fiction. I have pretty much resigned the world to a plague-ridden grave and decided to bring on the giant cockroaches, because humanity was clearly on its way out of the picture.

Overall, this book wasn't to my taste. Probably because I prefer to have my hero(ine)s ready to do something, and my love interests- well- interesting.

Plagues shape humanity. They produce the bottleneck effect, they lead to medical advance, they change the way we see the world. The Black Death (Europe, the Dark Ages),  was carried by fleas (on rats, which were plentiful) and was characterized large swellings on the body and purple or black in the extremities, and around the lips toward the end, hence the name, the Black Death. The Spanish Influenza killed more people than World War II (which was how it spread so quickly, it was spread by returning soldiers). Remember after the WWII was over, you get people kissing in the streets? I wince, because everyone contaminates each other.

And yes, I do have a fascination with plagues. They're horrible, they're tragic, they're destructive, they're terrifying and their effects are incredibly fascinating.

Friday, July 5, 2013

May and June DNF

I'm combining May and June because May was the month of The Great Under-Motivation for All Things. I only review books I've actually finished because I don't feel like it is fair to the book to write a review if I only got thirty pages in- who knows, maybe things really pick up at page sixty-five or some such. And, most of the time, I think that it is more a problem with me. Feel free to yell at me that I simply must give any of these books another go, if you think I've judged it really unfairly.

Itch: The Explosive Adventures of an Element Hunter
I seem to have this awful habit of expecting too much of books. The premise of this book is pretty out there as it is- any self respecting high school chemist knows that one does not simply cram an extra, radioactive, element into the periodic table and call it done. But I can suspend disbelief on that- if the character seemed knowledgeable, which I found he really didn't. He is collecting every element of the periodic table. But he isn't doing it in order, and doesn't seem to know the risks associated with, say, bringing arsenic to school. I got about fifty pages in, and I must confess I didn't see any value in continuing. This book just wasn't one for me.

A Corner of White (The Colours of Madeleine #1)
A lot of people love this one. Like, really, really loved it. the blurb sounds quite unique, sort of a fantasy-mystery sort of book. I couldn't get into it. Madeline (the heroine) really bothered me. I was actually actively annoyed by her, and most of the other characters in the story. I didn't much care for the world, and I wasn't pulled into the story enough to finish the book. The attacks of the colours were a little too surrealist (maybe not the right word) for me. Instead of seeming charmingly quirky, the odd characteristics of the world felt forced.

Boy Nobody
I just didn't really feel any motivation to finish this one. I got about fifty pages in, but I didn't feel particularly interested in the character, or invested in the story. I think that this was more of  personal thing. My interest wasn't piqued by the character in the beginning, and I didn't really have much in the
way motivation to continue on to see if there was any character development.

And yes this is a few days late. This was supposed to be up at the end of June, but I kind of forgot.

Review: Shatter Me

Shatter Me (Shatter Me, #1)Title: Shatter Me
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Series: Shatter Me
Volume: 1
Genre: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Fantasy

A Quick Summary: Juliette's touch kills people. She doesn't know why, but she's been locked up since her touch was revealed as fatal. The world is falling apart, people are starving, and Juliette repeats that birds don't fly anymore. Then she is pulled out of the asylum- into a situation that may be even worse. Now the Reestablishment, the brutal, totalitarian regime that she lives under, wants her to use her touch a a weapon. And for the first time in her life, Juliette is ready to fight back.

What I Thought: If you've read the book or any other reviews, you'll probably know the writing is a little unusual. It is almost poetic in the use of similes and metaphors, and there are crossings out (strikethroughs) where our narrator, Juliette, has presumably tried to avoid thinking something, or writing something (?).  It was an interesting style, but it wasn't really my cup of tea, I found my mind wandering. Juliette as a character wasn't one of my favorites, and I wasn't all that fond of the love interests (because there had to be a love triangle), though one of the boys isn't technically a love interest yet- but it is obviously going that way. The insta-love thing was driving me a little crazy by the end (okay, fine, well before the end)

Juliette is a broken character- the world hasn't shown her much kindness, and she's been kept in solitary confinement for a long time. Her own parents rejected her, and she hasn't been touched by another person in years. So I can understand how her response to human kindness is kind of skewed.

Overall, this wasn't really my sort of book. I haven't read a lot of love triangles that I've enjoyed (current tally comes to about... two tops). I'm also getting tired of the particular brand of hormonal teenager drama (which, given that I am a teenager is, I suppose, saying something).

A Fact: Human contact is very important for development, especially for children. It can lead to a lot of psychological damage, and stint emotional development in the long term.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Review: Nation

Title: Nation
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre: Adventure, Science Fiction

Why I Read It: Because who doesn't love a good old fashioned desert island story?

A Quick Summary: When the wave came, it washed away everything Mau loved, his entire village. And washed up a boat on a beach with one sole survivor- Daphne.   Together they have to find way to survive and keep the Nation alive, especially as survivors begin to wash up on shore.

What I Thought: I really enjoyed this one. I enjoyed reading from Daphne's point of view as she learned about the island customs. She and Mau have to work with a language barrier- neither of them have any idea how to speak the other language. Daphne takes on all of the women's roles for the Nation- including making beer, medicine and delivering a babies as the survivors begin to arrive. Mau has to take care of all of the leadership responsibilities, as well as dealing with the trauma of losing everything he has known, and losing his faith in his gods. The book is set in an alternate universe, so it has some science fiction components, including an interesting little science twist toward the end (don't want to spoil, so I can't tell you so much more). Overall this was a really enjoyable escapist read.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Review: Cate of the Lost Colony

Cate of the Lost ColonyTitle: Cate of the Lost Colony
Author: Lisa Klein
Genre: Historical Fiction

Why I Read It: It was one of the books I got on sale at chapters (3 for $10- Chapters is kind of expensive, but has great sales). And I do have a soft spot for Roanoke, and the early colonies stuff- I like reading about coming into a world that hasn't been taken over by European civilization.

Summary: When Lady Catherine Archer catches the eye of Sir Walter Ralegh, an explore and favourite of Queen Elizabeth, she is exiled to the budding colony of Roanoke. Walter says that he will return for her, but when he doesn't, she starts building a life for herself there. She becomes an essential part of the Roanoke colony, and finds new love with Manteo, one of the Croatoan natives. When ships do finally appear on the horizon, Cate has a choice to make.

What I Thought: I liked this one. As mentioned, I really like seeing North America through the eyes of someone who is seeing it in its pristine form. I love the idea of the being no cities. Roanoke was (also known as the "The Lost Colony") the first attempt by Europeans to colonize America. Catherine comes into herself over the course of the book. She's the kind of girl who needed to have a purpose, so, at the Roanoke colony, she finds her niche, and quickly works her way into being essential. She learns to speak the language of the Croatoans, starts setting up trade between the European settlers and the natives, and does her best to help both the settlers and the tribes, even when her attempts are met with hostility. To me, the love story part wasn't really as important as the journey that Cate as a character went on. Overall I found this a really enjoyable book.

Facts: The Roanoke colony was the first colony. It was where the first European child on American soil, Virgina Dare, was born. No one knows what happened to it. When the Ralegh (he was a real explorer) and the returning party arrived at Roanoke, they found evidence that the settlement had been pulled down and the settlers had disappeared, leaving behind only the carved word Croatoan. To this day it is not known what happened to them.