Sekret-Review

“An empty mind is a safe mind.”

This quote underscores the main theme of Sekret by debut author Lindsay Smith in describing Russia’s culture. With a flair of YA touch and the supernatural, Smith isn’t someone who is incapable of spelling. In fact, this is intentional. The setting of this book is in 1960′s USSR, and I suppose by spelling “secret” as “Sekret” it reflects the Russian language.

Prior to reading Sekret, I was very interested in Russian history with regards to my European history class. I noticed the innumerable controversies linked to Russian history (Rasputin? Romanov? Babushkas?). This book does a good job of incorporating Russia’s mysteries during its communist years into the story and giving the reader an intimate perspective on its dark history.

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Breakfast-Review

Do we all have a dream? As human beings, we are very much susceptible to the pits of our own idealism. Lost in an imagined world of our own wonders leads us to question: What is true anymore? Sarah Combs’ debut book, Breakfast Served Anytime, questions the availability of dreams and the intangible journey of social navigation.

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TBR2

The Hit by Melvin Burgess began with a promising concept: a drug called Death that plagues a society in the near future. This drug provides the victim with one week of pure bliss, including anything they could ever ask for in terms of riches, power, intelligence, and romantic partners – however, after the week is up the victim dies. As the story progresses the plot becomes extremely convoluted with the addition of several seemingly unnecessary characters and a subplot of a terrorist organization that manufactures fake death. The protagonists had superficial personas, which made them unrelatable and unlikable. The fast-paced nature of the novel kept me interested in the story, but it fell short of my expectations. The idea of a world obsessed with a particularly fatal drug had the potential to be the foundation for a thought-provoking book, however Burgess should have further explored the societal and emotional effects of such a drug in order for his book to live up its potential.

- Nicolette

The book is available for check out at the Niles Public Library.

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TBR3

Much like The Hunger Games and The Testing, The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean is a dystopian novel centered around the aftermath of a war. Living in a town torn apart by war, William “Billy” Dean is an enigmatic child whose unknown powers guide him into a world of mystery. This novel is an exceptional story suited for adults but is admired by young adults as well. With a well-paced plot, David Almond tells the story using Billy Dean’s illiterate stance so the reader can get a glimpse into his mind. You get to watch Billy grow and see his perceptions alter. Patient readers will enjoy this book to its fullest potential and will revel in its perplexity.

- Kristjan

The book is available for check out at the Niles Public Library.

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TBR4

As a die-hard lover of young adult contemporary fiction, one of my favorite things about these books is when a character grips me so hard that I want to crawl through the book and just love him or her, and this is where I found myself with Torn Away by Jennifer Brown. While Jersey didn’t initially start out as a character with issues, it only took a few pages before she became one. I found myself so attached to her that I wanted to go to her and give her encouragement and support and just HELP HER THROUGH THIS TIME IN HER LIFE. She took over my heart while I was reading this book, you guys, because my heart was broken for her.

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TBR1

We Were Liars has been talked about all summer as the new trendy YA novel, and from first glance, it’s got all the right credentials: a prominently placed quote of praise from “Mr. YA” himself, John Green, an intentionally vague plot summary on the dust jacket that speaks of a “shocking surprise ending,” and photographic cover art. After I read it, however, it turned out to be a far more old-fashioned affair. It’s a psychological thriller from YA novelist E. Lockhart that tells the story of Cadence Sinclair, a wealthy 17-year-old girl who lives an idyllic life of golden sunsets and childhood adventure on an island off the coast of Massachusetts during the summer, until a mysterious accident changes everything.

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divergent

Within the last decade, the Young Adult genre has skyrocketed in irrepressible popularity. It seems that with this increasing regard, film companies have grasped at the opportunity to impress the YA fan club, in hopes of making the next hit blockbuster. Many have tried to replicate the success of such franchises as Twilight and The Hunger Games, but only a handful have succeeded. The movie adaptation of Veronica Roth’s worldwide bestselling book Divergent, has seemingly played its cards right and won the hearts of moviegoers everywhere.

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In honor of Halloween, all this month I’m going to be reviewing books that have scared over the years, in a new series I call “‘Round Midnight”.

John Bellairs, I guess you could say, was the thinking man’s R.L. Stine. He, like Stine, made a career churning out a panoply of childrens’ horror books, but while Stine’s work (which isn’t without its merit, mind you) is full of grotesque images, and often aspires to be kiddie Stephen King, ends up being blackly comic self-parody often reminiscent of the Evil Dead series. Read more »

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In honor of Halloween, all this month I’m going to be reviewing books that have scared over the years, in a new series I call “‘Round Midnight”. 

For a notorious shut-in and misanthrope, H.P. Lovecraft sure knew how to scare a person. His “Cthulhu Mythos” stories are known for their quaint New England settings, their unique cosmology, and overwhelming sense of cosmic dread. He was one of the first horror authors to stray away from your typical witches-ghosts-undead triumvirate, and was met with middling success during his life, but after his death was revered as one of the greatest writers in the genre, and highly influential on authors from Stephen King to Neil Gaiman. He was also a racist in the “grouchy old man” mode, but we’ll get to that later.

His 1927 novella, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is strange among the works in his oeuvre, in that it grafts his “mind-breaking abominations from beyond the void are slowly taking over the universe” ideas onto a traditional English-style detective thriller. This actually works surprisingly well. It concerns a young man named (you guessed it) Charles Dexter Ward. He’s a pretty normal WASP-y New Englander who develops a strange obsession with his long dead ancestor Joseph Curwen, who was known for his eccentric habits. Not to ruin much, but things go pear shaped, and his doctor, Marinus Willett, is sent in to investigate.

The beginning of the book is a little slow. Lovecraft enjoys building atmosphere gradually over time, but all that eventually culminates to some of the scariest horror writing ever. I was reading this on the train, one of the least immersive places to read, and I was afraid. This is made even more impressive when you see that Lovecraft doesn’t rely on cheap shocks, or overly gruesome/sick description to make you jump. The mystery elements ground it, so it doesn’t float too far off into Lovecraft’s twisted, whimsical head, like some of his other novellas (e.g. The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath), and provide a welcome relief and comfort from the stark horror taking place elsewhere. There even is a little comedy at one point, although it’s easy to miss.

I have two main issues with it, though. It takes a long time for Charles Dexter Ward to get going, and it often spends pages digressing into the villainous Curwen’s backstory, which drags a bit. The aforementioned racism is also at play here, but only in the occasional descriptive passage. Lovecraft didn’t get out much (and kind of hated all people), so he ended up with a skewed perception of humankind, that most often manifested in prejudice. This doesn’t forgive his racist biases by a long stretch, but doesn’t diminish the mostly great writing here, and Lovecraft’s impact on the genre of horror. In total, this is a flawed, but singularly frightening work from one of America’s premier masters of spooky.

Grade:
B+

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This is one of those fantasy books that everyone was talking about a couple years ago. They foamed at the mouth about the “serious”, “gritty” nature of the book, how it was all about how “heroism went wrong” and made it seem like The Witcher-level fantasy grimdark. The A.V. Club called it “one of the best stories told in any medium in the past 10 years.” Even though that site has had its issues in the past (pretension, smugness, near-religious worship of Donnie Darko), I was prepared to trust them on this one. And, you see, it kind of lived up to them. Kind of.

It’s about a kid named Kvothe who’s parents get killed by a mysterious monster. He then makes it his life’s work to pursue the monster, by becoming good at everything. He ends up living on the street and having wacky misadventures at a school for wizards. Wait a second, where have I seen this before? I’d say I’m feeling ambivalent about this book. It told  a surprisingly good, if formulaic story. It’s a sort of twist on the old “kid gets orphaned but finds out he’s super special” tale, and takes the Harry Potter route of “goof around a bit before advancing the story” to an extreme, reaching almost Gaiman-like levels of “wait a second, there was an overarching plot here”.

This isn’t actually bad, and lets you luxuriate in Kvothe’s world for a bit before a new plot event, but the physical descriptions of places aren’t as lush as J.K. Rowling’s making it harder to get immersed. The wizards’ school is interesting enough, but reminds me too much of another certain child sorcerer’s old haunts, complete with simulacrums of Professor Snape and Draco Malfoy tormenting Kvothe. But my real issue is with the character of Kvothe himself: while being urbane and witty, and a sterling storyteller, he also isn’t bad at anything. Really. Most everyone in the book including Kvothe himself spends their time talking about how awesome he is.

 He seems to use his effortless charm and ebullient wit to get out of any sticky situation, no matter how dire. This wouldn’t be as annoying, if he weren’t so accursedly entitled. He acts like he “deserves” everything he’s getting because he’s so much better at everything than everyone else. The author supports him in thinking thusly. Just to compare, in George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, when Jon Snow spouts the same sort of whiny “I deserve this” bull, both the author, and the characters around him actively razz him for it, while in The Name of the Wind, everyone else around him seems to basically say “You’re right, Kvothe, you are really that awesome”.

Don’t even get me started on the love story: it’s basically a combo of everything that ever annoyed me about John Green protagonists (angst, neurosis, whiny-ness, putting girls on pedestals), and the aforementioned shameless self promotion. AUGH. No, but seriously, if you can look past all that, there’s a solid book underneath. The world is pretty interesting, if a bit confusing, and the other characters, even Kvothe at times, endear themselves to the reader. The chemistry between Kvothe and his friends is fun, because it’s more like an 80′s coming of age film than Harry Potter, and the plot can be very entertaining at points, leading in unexpected new directions every few chapters.

But as for it being “dark”, it was nowhere near, and except for the occasional curse word or sexual reference, it could be a juvenile fantasy novel. So honestly, for the most part, I enjoyed The Name of the Wind. Is it “the best story told in any medium in the past 10 years”? No way.

Grade: B

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