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Monday, February 28, 2011

Falling for Hamlet

by Michele Ray

This book is a modern day re-telling of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, but from Ophelia's point of view. This book contains everything you want in a novel: drama, wealth, royalty, betrayal, and intrigue. The story is told three different ways. The first is Ophelia's narration, which she claims is the complete truth. The second a description of a TV interview between Ophelia and a talk show host named Zara. The third is a transcript from when the DDI (Denmark Department of Investigation) questions Ophelia. I liked the way Ray uses the three different stories to relate the happenings in the castle as the King dies, Hamlet goes crazy, and Ophelia's life crumbles. From Ophelia's three versions of what happened the reader can see just how bendable the truth is. It left me wondering, with all of the madness going on among the royals, what really did happen. Falling for Hamlet was well written, and had a reasonably uplifting ending, considering that it is based in one of Shakespeare's tragedies.
I would describe this book as a hamburger. When I picked it up, it could have been really great, pretty awful, or anything in between. Like any burger, there was a lot of potential. Happily for me, it turned out to be very similar to a burger I had at the Q in Jackson Hole, WY. It was big and juicy, filled with crunchy lettuce, mildly spicy ketchup, and came with a large side of fries. It was filling, very good, and I couldn't put it down. However, it made my stomach ache for a while, because I was so full. Falling for Hamlet was the same way, I couldn't put it down, but at the end my insides were aching from the tragedies. I also felt a bit empty at the end, because there wasn't a character who I could hold on to, who was really fine at the end. The end lacked a catharsis.
I would rate this a 3.5 or maybe a 4. If you like a darker version of fluffy chick-lit, then this is for you, because it combines stupid teenage girls and their boyfriends with death and unbelievable heartbreak.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


By Veronica Roth
   This book has already received great reviews from those few privileged enough to have read a galley copy. Its average rating on Goodreads, so far, is 4.56, a monumental feat (To Kill a Mockingbird has a 4.19, Harry Potter #1 has 4.21, Twilight has a 3.79 (apparently my one-star review didn't pull it down that much) and Hunger Games had a 4.54). The galley crowd loves it!
    The plot is simple, at first glance, but infinitely detailed with a closer look. The reader is led to believe that the society is post-apocalyptic and "perfect" in every way, at least at first. After a large, catastrophic war or some sort, surviving society formed five factions:
  • The Abnegation, leaders and organizers of the city. They embody selflessness and caring for others. They believe greed and selfishness were the causes of the war.
  • The Erudite, scientists and keepers of knowledge. They embody intelligence and cunning. They believe ignorance caused the war.
  • The Dauntless, guards and defenders of the city. They embody fearlessness and bravery. They believe cowardice caused the war.
  • The Amity, farmers and producers of the city. They are kind and gentle. They believe meanness caused the war. 
  • The Candor, which don't seem to serve a purpose in the city. They speak the truth and embody honesty. They believe treachery and deceit caused the war.
   Beatrice Prior has always lived in the dystopian Chicago she calls home. Her parents are faithful members of Abnegation, selfless but cold from time to time. She feels like she must carry on her family's sacrifices and herself join Abnegation. At age 16, teenagers in her world must choose one of the five after being psychologically tested and given a suggested faction to join. Her test results are "inconclusive" and she must make her choice of a faction to join.
   Lest I give more away, I'll talk about the writing now. There's a predictable romance brewing (of course), but it somehow doesn't bog down the book as much as romances in Harry Potter and Twilight did. Romantic scenes are interspersed with cool action scenes, and this book is most definitely not primarily a romance. It's been compared to the Hunger Games series several times, and I think it's accurate in certain aspects. I'll give it a 4.5 because just a few things could have been better explained (like the history of the society) and some ideas are a bit shallow/vague.

The Dead by Charlie Higson

This book takes place in London, and pretty much everyone 16 or older gets sick. They get a cough, a runny nose, and boils. Light bothers them and the voices in their head tell them to eat the kids. They turn into zombies (although the characters in the book make a point of calling them "sickos" because zombies are undead and the sick people aren't). The kids are left to fend for themselves in a world with no adults. Food is hard to come by, and whenever anyone goes out, they are attacked by the zombies. The book follows one group of kids, and every once in a while, the author kills one of them.
It wasn't a very good book. It was a bit too bizarre. There was one kid, Matt, who was convinced that he had seen "the Lamb of God," and whenever something happened, it was meant to be. He was really annoying. It wasn't very well written. The book never seemed to go anywhere, and nothing really developed. A new kid would come, and a different kid would die, so none of the characters had time to develop. It didn't pull me in, and I did not find it particularly enjoyable. And it had a bad ending.
It gets a 2.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

I'll start by saying that whoever designed this book's cover did an amazing job. It's beautiful! I realize, of course, that you aren't supposed to judge a book by its cover, but personally, if it has a terrible cover I'm less likely to pick it up.

Across the Universe describes a futuristic scenario in which a group of people have been sent on a spaceship, Godspeed, to take over a new planet. This planet will provide resources that will in turn provide profit for people back on Earth. Everyone currently living on the ship is the same: monoethnic, all speaking the same language, with no differences to cause dissent. Although they don't realize it, there are also hundreds of selected people cryogenically frozen in the hold of the ship, the people that will "terraform" the new planet. 17 year old Amy is one of them. The book flip-flops between her point of view and that of Elder, also 17 and the leader-in-training on board the ship. The current leader is Eldest, and Elder will take over when he dies. Meanwhile, someone unplugs Amy down in the hold, and the question is, who did it? Amy becomes friends with Eldest, and together they search for the truth about many things on the ship as more frozen people become unplugged.

Revis has done an excellent job of developing the world of Godspeed. There are different levels to the ship, new technologies from the future, and of course things that are not what they seem. The characters all have some depth to them; for example, although Amy seems tough at times, when we see the world from her point of view she is very vulnerable. As the book continues, Revis reveals new insights at a good pace, keeping you hooked. I really loved the ending, as well. It was not a perfect ending at all, but it left me eager to see what happens next with the characters. One thing that bothered me was how quickly the perspective changed between Elder and Amy. There would be one page of Amy, then a few pages of Elder, and so on. This was rather confusing at times when I forget who was the narrator.
Overall, I recommend this book! I haven't thought of a food for it, so it's just a 4 for now. Here is the author's website; this is her first book:

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Erin Bow's Plain Kate easily sweeps its way to one of my all out favorite books and places itself as my favorite book of this school year, along with another by Juliet Mariller. Not only is its plot fascinating and gripping, it's well written too, giving one the feeling that one could reach out and touch Plain Kate's wooden stand, feel the fur on Taggle's side. The characters are beautifully explored, shaming the dreaded Mary Sue.

Plain Kate is the story of a girl, Katerina, who becomes an orphan quickly in the book. Her carvings hold power in the mind - they show people the truth, which is why they call her a witch. In order to escape the village blaming her for the plague, Plain Kate sells her shadow to a witch-man, Linay, and receives and unexpected gift along with escape.

At this point, you could see the plot - Linay is plotting something dastardly, Kate bravely stops him, saves the world, and is a hero in her village. But! This is not so - Plain Kate's storyline traverses the beauties of a catty friend, an injured witch, a wrongfully drowned healer, a strange fog, a strange and terrible power, loneliness, responsibility, and love. If you are looking for a book to permanently change the way you think about things, no matter how small the change, Plain Kate is a masterpiece that can be counted on to warm you up any time of the year.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Spoiled is a great, quick read. It is Cocks and Morgan's first YA book. It follows the lives of stepsisters Molly and Brooke. Molly moves to her famous father's home in LA after the death of her mother. Brooke and Molly, counter to what their father Brick had hoped, are anything but fast friends or loving sisters. However, as Molly adjusts to celebrity life, a new school, and a distant father, the girls realize that not only is sabotaging each other not a good idea, but they may even have things in common!

I would describe this book as pink cotton candy. Not exactly filling, but it definitely satisfies a sweet tooth. And what could be sweeter then sisters hating on each other, boy drama, and lots of shopping? On the other hand, cotton candy is not really something you want all the time, more of a guilty pleasure, or a break from heavier literature.

If you're in the box I would put this as a 3.5 or 4. If you like Meg Cabot, this is a good choice.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Shadow Grail 2: Conspiracies by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edgehill

In this book, all your questions about the series will be answered (it is highly recommended that you read Shadow Grail 1: Legacies first).  What happens to the kids that were "tithed"? Why is half the student population orphaned? Why did all the -- oh wait, never mind. 

In this series, it seems that the adults are all evil and the kids are all conspiracy theorists. The students have a right to; most had never known magic existed before their parents died, and they were flown to Oakhurst Academy and told they were Legacy students (past generations in their family had supposedly gone to that school also), and, (in Spirit's case) turned into a mouse to prove it.  But what bugs me the most is what the students theorize about.  I mean, they spend a great amount of time investigating a giant tree in the middle of their main hall, and completely miss a HUGE issue.  If you read my review of the first book in the Shadow Grail series, you would get what I'm saying, but for the sake of time and having to go through the blog archives to find it, here's a basic intro to two of the characters who illustrate this point:

Spirit: Main Character of the story, the only one at Oakhurst who can't do magic.  Her parents and younger sister died in an accident, where "there was a flash of light and [the vehicle lost control]."

Elizabeth: A new character in this book, she can remember her past incarnation as Yseult the Fair of King Arthur's Court.  She was orphaned when her parents went out snowmobiling on ice "a foot thick" in "below twenty" weather and fell through a "freak warm spot that thinned the ice, and you couldn't see under the snow."

Similarly, many of the other students had parents who either "committed suicide" or were involved in an accident preceded by a strange flash of light.  I don't know about you, but it sounds to me like an obviously magic-caused incident.  If I were the main character, I would have run away from the school the moment dorm introductions were over, and yet, Spirit, Addie, Muirin, Locke, and Burke completely ignore this and focus on the tree with the do-not-look charm on it that has nada to do with the plot.  Honestly, their failure to realize the similarities in the circumstances of their parents' deaths make me suspect that someone cast a do-not-notice spell on the whole school. To the reader, who is not under the spell however, this fact sticks out way too much.  It is almost like placing a bomb at the steps of a government building and putting a sign that says "IGNORE THIS" in foot-high neon letters on top of it to make sure no one notices. 

If the previous book in this series was raw cookie dough, this one is raw cookie batter that someone forgot to add flour to before they put it in the oven; so much expectation for it, but in the end it fell flat, albeit in a very epic way.

Review by Elizabeth Chan

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman's If I Stay was easily one of my favorite books from 2009. Like The Lovely Bones, it takes place it is told from the point of view of a protagonist that is removed from the action. In this case it is teenage Mia, lying in a coma after an car accident that takes the lives of her two amazing parents and lovely little brother Teddy. In this in-between state, she tries to decide if life is worth living without the people she just lost. What would her life be like without her parents, and without Teddy? As she grapples with this, her boyfriend Adam comes to visit her in the hospital and tells her to stay.

I'm obviously not doing justice to the elegance of the storytelling by merely regurgitating the plot, but you need to know what happened in book one to understand Where She Went, which comes out in April 2011. Where She Went is told from Adam's point of view, and takes place a few years later. Mia, a brilliant cellist at the time of the accident, has just finished Julliard and is playing a concert in New York City. Meanwhile, Adam, the lead singer and lyricist of the alternative rock band Shooting Star, is about to head off on a worldwide tour, but is spending the night in New York City. On impulse, he goes to see Mia play. Because he is now a celebrity, she gets word that he's at her performance and has her "people" find him.

What follows is a middle of the night wandering through New York City that reminds me very much of the movie Before Sunset, where two people that used to be in love meet up sort of by chance and wander through Paris. In that movie, the couple is older (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in their late 30's), but the sentiments are the same. There's so much that Adam wants to know about the disintegration of his relationship with Mia, so many gaps to be filled in. Forman took just the right approach in filling in the gaps for the reader too, with chapters skipping between the past and the present, but never in a confusing way. I loved traveling through those circles, getting to understand and remember again why I loved Adam and Mia so much in If I Stay.

I don't want to give away any more of the book, but let it be known that I devoured this one on Sunday afternoon, after keeping it in my to-read pile expressly for that purpose. Gayle Forman is one of my favorite writers, and this book does not disappoint. She has such a keen ability to show love and all the ways it makes people behave irresponsibly and regrettably. On top of that, this is a story about the love of music and for once, the author actually understands what bands a musician would actually like! (Note, it is not necessarily the bands the author likes unless the author has some kind of indie music cred!)

Because I am an in-the-box person, I am giving this one a 4. It is quite good, but also not the absolutely best book I've ever read (I'm very choosy with my 5s).

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Overall, The Way of Kings was a very good book. By the end, I understood what was happening, how things connected, and mostly which characters were which. However, it took 600 pages to get going. That's a long time for any book to set itself going; 600 pages is longer than a lot of books take to finish themselves. It took far too long describing the unusual storms that took place in this world and the spheres they use for money and light. The last 400 pages of the book were wonderful, and it took me about a tenth of the time to read those pages than the other 600 hundred. Those 600 pages contained a lot of rather bothersome features. For example, it described things several times in the same way. The world is full of spirit-like things called spren, and it describes fearspren by saying "Fearspren - like globs of purple gloo," then, not so many pages later there is another sentence: "Small fearspren - shaped like globs of purple goo" and then the rest of the sentence. They're almost exactly the same! Why would you do that? For the first section of the book, it's like he uses a formula for describing the spren. He has somespren - like something that looks like the spren - and the rest of the sentence. Later, Sanderson describes the dresses of a certain country as tight, form fitting at the top, and long, flowing at the bottom several times. Yes, I got that the first time, try using some different description. Then there were the characters. There were so many characters! The book followed several people, including Dalinar, Kaladin, young Kaladin, Shallan, and Szeth-son-son-Vallano, Truthless of Shinovar. Each had their own story, and the book spent some time on each before switching to another character. Just as I was getting used to one story and character, the book moved to another. By the time it returned, I had no idea which side characters were which. I didn't know who was nice to Dalinar or who Kaladin's brother was.
So the book gets a 4.3. It would have gotten a 3 if not for the fact that it finally managed to end well, with all the characters tying together. And the character Wit. He definitely made the book better.

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