April 29, 2013

Monday's Reading Recap

Last Week I Finished Reading: The Elite by Kiera Cass and Memories of Babi by Aranka Siegal

This Week I'm ReadingFateful Eyes by Panos Nomikos

This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: The Clock of Life by Nancy Klann-Moren

What are you reading? 

April 26, 2013

The Elite by Kiera Cass

A tiny beat of my heart whispered, What about Aspen? But I was so taken in by Maxon that I barely even heard it.
-from The Elite by Kiera Cass
{okay, okay: 3.5 stars}

Please note that this review may contains spoilers for The Selection. Buy it here to read it first.

Let me defend my three star review by acknowledging how much I love this series, these characters, and the realistic portrayal of a seventeen year old girl faced with so much on her shoulders. I adore America, Maxon and Aspen and I admire the love triangle Kiera Cass has constructed that leaves me flabbergasted over who America should end up with as much as the next reader. But this installment (while I read it all within a six hour period), fell a little flat, giving me little to defend in terms of an overall good story and made me feel a little guilty for loving the series so much at all. 

If you're familiar with The Selection then you know that America Singer is competing to marry Prince Maxon in a publicized Bacheloresque competition that she originally wanted nothing to do with. She's already in love with Aspen, but Prince Maxon has proven to be worthy of her love as well. In The Elite, The Selection process is down to six girls, including America. America is the underdog to the public, coming from the most lowly caste, but to Prince Maxon she just has to tell him she wants to spend the rest of her life with him and she's the winner. But America struggles with her love for Maxon, her love for Aspen (now a castle guard), and ultimately the responsibility of being a princess.

I really want to give this book 4 stars, but more than the first half is almost nothing but America whining about how much she loves Maxon and then she doesn't, so she loves Aspen because he's dependable, but then she's so jealous of Maxon's relationship with the other girls that she loves him again and the cycle repeats. I thought the wishy washy love triangle was okay for the first book when the reader was being wooed by both Maxon and Aspen right alongside America; but in the second book I hoped for something more. I understand that a certain level of back and forth is relevant for America to come to a decision, but most of the book feels just like repetition from The Selection. I can't say I didn't enjoy it and it did have its redeeming qualities; America's distrust of Maxon makes her so unstable in their relationship that it turns her into someone she is not, namely the girl with whom Maxon fell in love. When Maxon begins to spend more time with other girls, I can't say I blame him and this adds a new dynamic to their love story. 

By the last third of the book, the story does pick up, so don't give up hope completely. I was especially eager to learn more about the attacks on the castle and the war with New Asia (although I was really expecting more).  Despite spending so much time on the love triangle, Cass proves herself an excellent storyteller in many details, my favorite being Aspen's acknowledgement that he and Maxon are competing in their own version of The Selection for America. I also like the way Cass shifts the reader's perspective of characters through plot points, like my opinion of Maxon and Marlee (I would say more, but I don't want to spoil anything for you!).

While I was disappointed with the substance of The Elite, I can't say I didn't love it. America's struggle with her identity is made even more difficult by the love triangle in which she has entrenched herself; she gauges her strengths and weaknesses against each of her suitors, but it isn't until she examines herself without the backdrop of a man that she realizes her strengths and redeems herself as a strong female protagonist. And for the record, I don't think readers give these dystopian heroines (America, Katniss, Tris...) enough credit for all they have to go through as teenage girls! For that and many other reasons, I highly recommend this series overall but am less enthused about this content of this book.

Bottom Line: A must read if you loved The Selection, but if you didn't love the first book you probably won't be as forgiving about this one as I was. 3.5/5 Stars

April 22, 2013

Monday's Reading Recap

Last Week I Finished Reading: The Secret of Ella and Micha by Jessica Sorenson and The Clock of Life by Nancy Klann-Moren

This Week I'm Reading: The Elite by Kiera Cass and Fateful Eyes by Panos Nomikos.

This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: The Elite by Kiera Cass

April 19, 2013

Companion Novellas: The Prince and Free Four {mini reviews}

There are few (non-life threatening) miseries greater than waiting for the release of sequels in a series you love. I'm anxious for Kiera Cass' second installment of her Selection series, The Elite due out next Tuesday and Veronica Roth's third novel in the Divergent series (due out 10/22/13). But fortunately for readers, these authors have given us some small treasures to appease us while we wait: short companion stories/novellas that add a new dimension to each respective series by revealing the experience of another important character.

In Kiera Cass' companion Novella to The Selection titled "The Prince," readers experience the earliest stages of the Selection process as told by Prince Maxon, the bachelor prince who must publicly choose a wife. This story is marketed as a story about the girl in Maxon's life before the Selection, but frankly I feel that is false advertising as said girl takes up little of this overall story. Fortunately for readers this is not a disappointment; instead of reading about Maxon's past, I was much happier reading his side of the Selection experience. What readers will be really excited about is Maxon's perspective of his first conversations with protagonist, America Singer, verbatim from her experience as illustrated in the novel The Selection. Gaining this insight into Maxon's feelings about her add a new dynamic to the series overall.

Similarly, Veronica Roth's short story, "Free Four" retells a scene verbatim from Divergent, only this time from the perspective of Dauntless trainer, Four. This companion story, much shorter than "The Prince," is succinct and powerful at expressing Four's feelings and motivations in the knife throwing scene where he cuts protagonist, Beatrice "Tris" Prior's ear. Roth really brings life into these characters with their powerful contrast of perspectives and I enjoyed re-reading the scene from Tris' perspective in Divergent upon finishing "Free Four". Knowing Four's impression of Tris and his motivations for missing and slicing her ear give him added depth as a character and gives their love story more dimension.

While I found both stories to be fulfilling and enjoyed the added perspective to each respective overall story, I think you need to be a real fan of these series to appreciate their companions. I am especially drawn to how authors create human emotions and experiences with their characters, so such varied perspectives that alter the emotional climate of a story are especially enjoyable to me as a reader. I think it would be much too monotonous to read an entire novel in a different perspective, but these authors give just enough to add multiple dimensions to already vibrant worlds they respectively have both created.

Kiera Cass and Veronica Roth are not the first and only to write companion stories to accompany their novels; more popularly Stephenie Meyers penned the novella, "The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner" as a companion to her Twilight Saga. Similarly, J.K. Rowling wrote multiple companions to the Harry Potter series, most notably The Tale of Beedle the Bard. As an avid reader, I hope to find more companions in the future to shed new light on  a story and to make the wait for the next installment in a series less excruciating.

April 15, 2013

Monday's Reading Recap

Last Week I Read: Fire and Bitterblue, both by Kristin Cashore 

This Week I'm Reading: The Secret of Ella and Micha by Jessica Sorenson and The Clock of Life by Nancy Klann-Moren

This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: "The Prince" by Kiera Cass and "Free Four" by Veronica Roth

April 12, 2013

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Sometimes I feel like I am collecting the lessons each faction has to teach me, and storing them in my mind like a guidebook for moving through the world. There is always something to learn, always something that is important to understand.
-from Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Please note, this review does contain spoilers of Divergent, the first book in this series. If you haven't read Divergent, I recommend you read that before you read this review! :)
The second installment in Veronica Roth's Divergent series, Insurgent picks up right where the first book left off. In dystopian Chicago, after stopping a simulated attack by the Erudite faction, Katniss-esque heroine, Tris, along with her surviving mixed faction pack of friends and family, must find a way to stop Jeanine, the evil leader of the Erudite, in order to protect their world from further destruction. Throughout her journey to resolve the conflict of warring factions, Tris must deal with her grief and guilt, learn who she can and cannot trust, balance a new relationship and decide if discovering and understanding the truth behind the attacks are more important than stopping them.
I really appreciated that this sequel began in the same breath Divergent left off; this left nothing for me to imagine between books. There is a lot of action in this novel so there is little time for the reader to be bored or uninterested. However, with this action comes a lot of moving all over the place and a lot of emotional back-and-forth. I took away one star because of the choppiness I experienced as Tris & Co. zoom from faction to faction and I tried to keep straight who was good, who was bad, who had what abilities and how Tris felt about everyone (not that her feelings are ever kept secret from the reader). All that said, I truly did enjoy this book! Many readers probably would not find anything wrong with this, perhaps I just like some predictability of where a book is headed.
One realization I had that helped me better appreciate the chaos of this book was zeroing in on a theme; while Divergent is a book that examines Tris' understanding of herself, Insurgent enlightens Tris to understanding her world and how she fits into it. Both realizations are not as black and white as Tris is raised to see the world. People are not one-sided so as to fit into one faction, and Insurgent illustrates Tris' journey understanding and relating to all of the factions to which these people belong, good, bad and everything in between. I find that reading with the perspective of this theme made all of the moving around more forgivable.
One of my favorite parts of this series has been the glints of religious (leaning toward Christian) commentary found in little spots. I majored in English and Religious Studies in college with a focus on Religion in Literature to join both majors, so any time I find what looks like an author's commentary on any Abrahamic religion, I become quite delighted! When Tris described the Erudite as making "no judgments about what people believed, but designed things for them within the confines of those beliefs" I became especially interested in the factions as shades of belief relating to each other. If I was still in college I might want to develop a paper on this, so if you're in college and/or interested in such explications in fiction about religion, you should definitely read this series!
Bottom Line: If you read Divergent, I probably don't even have to tell you to read this because you probably already have! If you haven't read either, start at the beginning as quickly as possible! Or do what I wish I would have done and wait until October to start so the release of the third book doesn't feel SO FAR AWAY!! 4/5 Stars (okay, 4.5 out of 5...)
Are you a big fan of the Divergent series? What are you doing to remain patient as you wait for the third book to come out? What are your thoughts on the movie casting?


April 11, 2013

New Layout!

I loved my original Book Barn blog layout, but something glitchy was happening with the background images (I guess that's what happens when you use free templates!!), so I decided it was time for a change. I opted for function over fashion (something I rarely do!!) and thought this streamlined dynamic layout might be more useful in browsing previously posted reviews that catch your eye. Please let me know what you think!!

On a side note, if you're interested in writing a review to post on the blog, please let me know! You don't have to have posted a review in your life and you don't need to have a blog. Also, your review doesn't need to be new, you can have posted it on Amazon or your own blog before. I'm hoping to make new friends this way, so please don't hesitate to email me if you are even a little bit interested!

xo Danielle

April 10, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday: The Elite by Kiera Cass

I'm so excited that it's finally April because that means The Elite by Kiera Cass will be out soon, April 23 to be exact! I just finished reading the companion novella to this series, "The Prince", and it just jazzed me up for this second installment in Cass' series! Check out my review of the The Selection, and then go buy it here if you haven't read it yet so you can prepare for the sequel!

Kiera Cass’s The Elite is a must-read for fans of dystopian fiction, fairy tales, and reality TV. This sequel to The Selection will enchant teens who love Divergent and The Bachelor.

In America Singer’s world, a bride is chosen for the prince through an elaborate televised competition. In the second book of the Selection series, America is one of only six girls left in the running. But is it Prince Maxon—and life as the queen—she wants? Or is it Aspen, her first love?
The Elite delivers the adventure, glamour, political intrigue, and romance readers of The Selection expect, and continues the love triangle that captivated them.
What books are you waiting on today?

April 5, 2013

Divergent by Veronica Roth

I stare into my own eyes for a moment. Today is the day of the aptitude test that will show me which of the five factions I belong in. And tomorrow, at the Choosing Ceremony, I will decide on a faction; I will decide the rest of my life; I will decide to stay with my family or abandon them.
-from Divergent by Veronica Roth

{buy here}

Like many other readers, once I finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy, I wanted to find similar books or series that might fill the void and capture my attention in the same way. I wasn't very successful, although many people recommended Veronica Roth's Divergent series to me. For some reason it took me almost a year to get to it and I only wish I had picked up this book sooner! If you're looking for a dystopian young adult series in the same vein as The Hunger Games, look no further because this is the best I've found yet.

In the first installment of Veronica Roth's Divergent series, protagonist Beatrice Prior is a sixteen year old girl living in dystopian Chicago where the population is split into five groups called factions. Each faction is dedicated to a specific virtue that governs their lifestyle: the Amity promote peace, the Candor promote honesty, Erudite promote intelligence, Dauntless promote bravery, and the faction in which Beatrice is born into, Abnegation, promote selflessness. During the Choosing Ceremony each year, each 16 year old must choose which faction in which they wish to spend the rest of their life. In a society that dictates "faction before family", this means completely abandoning your family should you choose a new faction. When Beatrice learns new information about her strengths during the aptitude test preceding the Choosing Ceremony, she must decide whether to honor herself or selflessly honor her family.

Beatrice's conflict of choosing a faction is covered in the beginning of the novel; the rest of the book focuses on her initiation into the faction she chooses and the continued internal struggle of who Beatrice is, what she stands for and how she should use her strengths in the world that is not as perfect as she grew up to believe.
I love how Roth separates five virtues, all seemingly positive and valuable, but once isolated exhibit flaws that have potential for corruption and greed. Since the factions are not allowed to blend and members are not allowed to transfer any time other than during the Choosing Ceremony, these values are not allowed to be blended in this society. This idea reinforces that these virtues are most potent when utilized together. Furthermore, this emphasizes the strengths of Beatrice as she exhibits a combination of virtues that set her apart in her story, and also set her apart as a heroine in young adult fiction.
While the writing is simple and easy to understand (it is young adult, afterall), the story and message behind it are complex and entertaining. With action-packed fight scenes and a sprinkling of romance, Divergent uses the same recipe that made The Hunger Games one of my favorite series without feeling like I was reading the same story at all. (Like I alway say, I hate comparing books to THG, but since you've probably already read it, it's a good example to use!)
Bottom Line: I recommend this for anyone who loves action, adventure, and/or dystopian YA fiction. You will especially love it if you've read The Hunger Games. If I had a preteen/teenager I would totally have them read this book for its message! 5/5