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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I’ve finally got around to doing this: my last blog entry. (cry) So I’ll do it on the three books I think I enjoyed the most this summer.

Nine Days


Nine Days by Fred Hiatt is about Ti-Anna and Evan, two high school sophomores who bond over their interest in social justice in China. After Ti-Anna’s father, a Chinese human rights advocate, disappears in Hong Kong, Ti-Anna and Evan must go to Hong Kong in secret and only have nine days to find and rescue him.
I have been learning and taking interest in some human rights stuff, and this book really brought it to life, especially towards the end where Ti-Anna and Evan uncover a human trafficking ring. The story was fast paced and hooking, and Ti-Anna and Evan were two kids I could definitely cheer for and say “You go, guys!” I felt like I was in Hong Kong with them as they tried to find Ti-Anna’s father. This is the perfect book to help you get interested in human rights and the best part is that it’s based off the story of someone who was in Ti-Anna’s shoes.

Light


Light by Michael Grant is the final book in the Gone series. For those who haven’t read it, the series about a town where everyone over fourteen has disappeared and those who are left are cut off from the rest of the world. They must fight to survive, find food, discover their new abilities, and in this final book, prepare for the final battle with the force that put them in this situation in the first place and exit the FAYZ (what they call the area they are living in).
This book was the perfect ending to a perfect series, and it left me breathless and thinking about it for a long time after. It was the perfect balance of action, romance, and suspense and I felt like I knew each and every character almost as well as real people. Fans of the series, be forewarned: a lot of main characters die in this one, so your favorite might not be there to see the end of the FAYZ.

The Dream Thieves
 
The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater doesn’t come out until September 17, but Ms. Miller lent me the arc, and I loved it (thank you again, Ms. Miller!). I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, so I’ll stick to a brief summary and a few thoughts.
Since Blue and her friends have woken up the Cabesbury ley lines, things have definitely gotten strange. Adam is still acting strange. Ronan is able to take things out of his dreams. Blue is starting to wonder if she has a crush on Gansey. And who is that strange man in gray and what does he want?
Maggie Stiefvater, as usual, wrote a beautiful work of awesomeness. The characters and setting are so lifelike, and the plot is so complex, you’re not going to want to stop reading this. If you haven’t read The Raven Boys yet, I highly recommend that you start, and then read this one. You are in for a treat.

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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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Kindness for Weakness - Shawn Goodman
My first post! =)

Summary: A kid named James lives in a town. He has no friends, his dad hates him, and his mom is defenseless and does nothing to care for him. His brother is a tough guy who does drugs and has friends. Because of that, in order to try to be content in life and in order to be popular, James begins dealing drugs (I believe crystal meth) for his brother. The police catch him and send him to Juvy. There, he meets a kid named Freddie, whom he befriends. At Morton (the Juvy place), James is made fun of because he is not like the rest of the kids there, and Freddie is made fun of because he is a homosexual. The head guys at Juvy also make fun of them. There, Freddie and James befriend each other, and they learn about life and how to be themselves and stick up for who they are and what they believe.

My Opinion: This is a really good book. It is well written, the dialogue is accurate, and it shows that you should always be yourself, though it may be hard, because if you’re not yourself, you will not be satisfied. It was also a good eye opener to us about the outcasts of society who are different than us, and it lets us know them better and also accept/respect them for who they are. Overall, this book was great, and it was worth reading. I’m not a fan of these kind of books, but it was far different from any book of this genre I have read. 

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The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson is about June Costa, the “best artist in Palmares Tres” in her own words. Palamares Tres, a city built inside of a pyramid in futuristic Brazil, is inhabited by a matriarchal society with a tradition of electing a “Summer King” who is then sacrificed in the wintertime and chooses the queen as he dies. Everybody, especially the wakas (young people), loves the newest Summer King, Enki, whom June sees as a fellow artist. Together, she and Enki create art, fuel a movement to let new technology into Palamares Tres, and even though they know what happens to Enki, fall in love.

The beginning of the book was very confusing. Right away I was bombarded with familiar words used in unfamiliar ways. I at first thought Auntie Yaha was June’s actual aunt – until I was surprised to learn that Auntie was a title for a woman in the government and Auntie Yaha was actually June’s mom’s wife. After the first chapter or so, I was able to better navigate through this new and very liberal society, and as the book went on, the journey kept getting better and better. The characters and setting were very vivid, and since I had read the ending sentences before I finished the book, I loved the twist at the ending and was glad it wasn’t a sappy, melodramatic ending. Overall, while the beginning was a little strange, I liked this book, and I’m still fascinated that both of the books about matriarchal societies that I’ve read so far seem to portray that matriarchal societies are so much more flawed than patriarchal ones. Maybe that’s just me, but that’s another discussion for another time.

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The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey is about Cassie, a sixteen-year-old girl who has survived four waves of an alien invasion that has decimated most of Earth’s population through illness, hiding in human hosts, and raising ocean levels. Now as the dawn of the fifth wave approaches, Cassie must rescue her little brother Sammy, although she’s going to need some help along the way even though she doesn’t know whom to trust.

The beginning of the book was very disturbing because Yancey portrayed how low humanity can sink so well, but after a while the feeling plateaus and one easily forgets about it. The plot and the characters were vivid and realistic and kept me hooked. According to goodreads.com it’s the start of a new series, and I am definitely excited to read the next book when it comes out. One should really hope there aren’t actual aliens like the ones in the book around because if they do discover us, we are in trouble.

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It’s rare that I describe a book as “delightful”. “Delightful” implies, for me, at least, a book so good that I actually feel physical buoyancy while reading it. The Anubis Gates is one of those rare “delightful” books. It’s about a man named Brendan Doyle who, at the behest of an eccentric old man, travels back in time to 1810, and gets stuck there. At first, it seems a little like Back to the Future in the Regency era, complete with goofy misunderstandings and fish out of water antics, but takes a sharp left turn when Ancient Egyptian magic gets involved.

I won’t ruin too much, though, because a majority of its appeal comes from being surprised at how everything connects. The great part about it, though, is its lack of pretension. It doesn’t make a big deal about its own cleverness: instead of flaunting its elaborate worldbuilding and knowledge of history, like some other historical fantasy and science fiction novels, it lets the audience fill in the gaps, and doesn’t assume too much. If you don’t know about the Regency, it doesn’t matter, because Powers doesn’t constantly hit you over the head with things specific to that time. I also appreciate the lack of put-on Britishness: normally, when an American like Powers writes a book set in old time England, you hear a lot of lines like “Give us some bees and honey guv’nor but watch out for the bloody bobbies”, and often sound like they’re trying too hard.

Fortunately, there’s none of that here. One minor issue I have with this book, is that it’s a bit slow in points, especially in the beginning, but once it gets going, it reaches delirious heights of “I can’t believe he’s doing this.” Another is the slightly politically incorrect Egypt sections, with their cheesy, descriptions of that country’s inhabitants, but they’re milder than all three Indiana Jones movies combined, really. Other than that, this book was great. A perfect brainy beach read for the warmer months ahead.

Grade: A

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 The Nightmare Affair by Mindee Arnett is about Dusty Everhart, a Nightmare who feeds off people’s dreams. One night, she is feeding off a boy that she knows and sees that he’s dreaming about a murder that takes place at Dusty’s school for the magickind. When the murder the boy, whose name is Eli, dreams about actually happens, he and Dusty must join forces to catch the killer and keep him from killing again.
While there wasn’t much background given on what was going on, the plot was easy to follow and actually didn’t really require a backstory about the magickind. Dusty, Eli, and their friends were very relatable, realistic characters and the plot was different and awesome. While it wrapped up well and doesn’t really require a sequel, there are several elements in the story that can definitely use a sequel.

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