Saturday, November 30, 2013

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

How much does the ending of a book influence whether or not you liked that book?  I try not to make that the deciding factor, but I am discovering that may be impossible for me.  Remember when I whined about the ending of These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner?  I loved that book, but the ending made me angry, not just because I had come to care about the characters, but because I didn't understand why an author would choose to take such an important character away, both from the readers and the other characters.  Yes, yes.  I know it's fiction, but you know that's not the point.  You and I both know we read because we love immersing ourselves into the lives of these characters and allowing them to become real to us. 
In Allegiant  by Veronica Roth, the third and final book in the Divergent series, Ms. Roth makes what I am sure were some very difficult decisions.  Writing is a complicated process and sometimes characters take the writer on a journey he or she never expected.  I can understand that.  I can also understand that a writer often has very good reasons for his or her actions.  You can even read Ms. Roth's explanations here if you would like, but please be aware that the spoilers are significant.

So what can I tell you about this book without dwelling too much on the ending (too late!)?  Well, I will tell you that even before I got to that part, I was a little disappointed in the track of the story.  It just felt like it was missing something, depth maybe.  At one point, I really felt like perhaps the author had gotten off on a tangent.  Of course that could have all been brought to a resolution that would have been wonderful and I would have been thrilled with the twists and turns if it had all turned out in the end.

Okay, it's time to face it.  I am one of those nerds who needs a happy ending.  I don't expect everyone to live happily ever after, but I do think that someone should be happy.  That's why I read fiction, after all.  There is enough unhappiness in the world and I just want to escape for a bit, go on an adventure, be saddened or angered that a secondary or tertiary character dies and then smile through tears when the main characters go on to live happy lives.  Is that too much to ask? 

I am, of course, not alone in my feelings about this book.  Twitter and the blogosphere had fits about it.  I saw one tweet that said, "I feel like I should wear a badge today saying 'I finished #Allegiant.  Hug me.'"  I liked that one.  One reader said, "I feel betrayed by the author."  Another claimed that she would never reread this series again because, while she loved the first two books, they have been ruined for her.  Forever.  From what I understand, there have even been death threats.  Now that is craziness.  Let's take a breath people.

So what part will this play with the success of the film being released in March?  That is a good question, but my guess is that six months is just the right amount of time for people too come to terms with the end of the series.  Have you read it yet?  What did you think?  Do you need a book to have a happy ending to feel it was worth your time?  What do you think about the fan reaction (excepting of course the death threats- we all know those people are nut jobs)?

Divergent/ Insurgent by Veronica Roth- Reread

In anticipation of the release of Allegiant  by Veronica Roth, I reread the first two books in the series, Divergent and Insurgent.  You can read my original reviews of them here and here.  While I loved these books the first time around, I was less enamored in the reread.  They were still good, but maybe not as good as I had initially thought.  The first movie in the series comes out in March and the previews look good so my hopes are high.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

I love smart people, smart girls in particular (hence the blog name) and I love the main character in the new book I'm reading.  Counting by 7s  by Holly Goldberg Sloan tells the story of Willow Chance who is not just smart.  She's a genius.  A weird, awkward, unusual genius and I wish I were just like her.

Willow doesn't have many friends.  Any, really, and as she begins middle school, she wants very much to make a good first impression.  She does her research but most of what she can find makes it sound as though all teenagers are drug- addicted, delinquents on the fast track to teen pregnancy and prison.  This turns out to not be all that helpful.  She tries her best, but the day a standardized test is passed out proves to be her turning point.  She finishes the test in less than twenty minutes and is accused a few days later of cheating as she has gotten every single question correct.  She doesn't know how to defend herself and is sent to a school counselor who is horrible at his job.  While in this office, Willow meets the people who will change her life forever.

This is a wonderful, darling book that only took me two days to read because I could not put it down.  I may have even hidden in my closet to finish it.  We do what we have to do, don't we?  One of the things I love so much about Middle Grade fiction is that it is what I think Young Adult fiction used to be, or maybe what I think it should be.  In YA, the characters are all teenagers, but they don't seem to realize it.  They behave much more maturely and are in situations that I feel are sometimes far above their capability and it is often something that I wouldn't necessarily want my younger teenager to read.  We all know that these books trickle down to younger readers so I appreciate that there is good fiction out there now (and I do believe it is getting better all the time) that I would feel comfortable handing over to my pre-teen or younger teen when I have one.  Truth be told, this may be my new favorite genre.  Please read this book.  You will fall in love with Willow Chance and watching the people around her change is inspiring.  I hope you love it as much as I do.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

I have been in a book club for a few years now and I love it.  I am also kind of proud of the fact that I have never not finished a book for book club.  Even when the book is horrible or life gets crazy, even if that is the only book I read all month, I always finish the book club book.  This month I almost didn't make it and not because I almost ran out of time.  I almost didn't finish because I almost couldn't resist the temptation to quit and toss the book back into the nearest library bin.  Who picked this one anyway?  Oh, was me.
The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe was on many, many lists recently of great book club reads.  Usually when it is my turn to pick the book club book, I have a whole list of books that I cannot wait to read with my book club ladies.  For whatever reason this month I just couldn't find any thing that really captured my attention that I thought everyone would enjoy.  You see, our book club is going through a few growing pains as three of our seven members have moved out of state and one more has her house for sale as we speak (me again).  It is really hard to have a book club meeting from a distance even with all the wonderful technological advances at our disposal.  I wanted something everyone would want to read so I went out trolling the interwebs, looking at book recommendation lists.  I came up with this one.
True, it is about the author's mother who is dying of pancreatic cancer, but she is in her seventies so I hoped that would help make it less sad.  It is also about the book club that developed between this admirable woman and her son.  They discuss books as they wait at each of her doctor appointments and chemo treatments.  This book is also interesting in that it does a thorough job of describing a cancer patient's struggles and what his or her loved ones can expect in such a situation.  It provided a good amount of advice to those grieving someone not yet gone.  I believed all the reviews I read about how wonderful this book is and so I made it my pick.  I started early because it was a slightly larger book than some of our recent books and it's a good thing I did.  It was just such a slow read.
The author loves his mother very much and she is a remarkable woman who has spent much of her life working on various charitable organizations to benefit refugees.  Where I stumbled is in the amount of details provided by the author.  I understand that partially he is writing this book for himself and his mother's family and friends to remember her, but sometimes it is just too much.  Also, while the books they pick to read are certainly high quality literature, I don't think there was even one that I have read.  Because of this, I had a difficult time connecting to the stories.
I was about halfway through the book when I realized that not only may I not finish the book, but it was unlikely that all of the other members of our book club would read it to the end.  I was ready to quit at that point.  Why force myself to finish a book I wasn't enjoying when there are so many other books out there that I can't wait to read?  Well, because that is what we do in book club.  After talking to one friend who was really enjoying the book, I knew I needed to push through.  Luckily for me, it picked up speed a bit in the second half.  I can't say I would recommend this book, but it does have value if you can make it through it.  One statement that really got me was this one:
"...This was not even a particularly big offense in the pantheon of book club crimes, where the worst sin one can commit was not to read the book in question- or, even worse, to lie about having read the book when, in fact, you'd simply seen the movie."

And so I finished.  And that's all I have to say about that.

The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau

The final book in the Ember series is The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau.  I had to wait a bit for it to come in at the library, but I read it very quickly once it was finally in my hands.  In this final installment, Lean and Doon travel back to Ember to see if there is anything there waiting for them.  Doon is convinced that the Creators left something specifically for the people of Ember to help them once they emerged from their home into the real world.  Lena is doubtful that they will find anything like that, but hopes to bring back any leftover food, clothing or medicine that can be scavenged from the town.  Of course, their trip does not go smoothly.  It seems someone else has discovered the city of Ember and laid claim to all that it contains.  Lena and Doon  have once again gone out to save the world on their own and this time they need help. 
While far better than The Prophet of Yonwood, this finale to the series was a bit of a let down.  After the excitement of the first book and the interesting social parallels in the second book, the third felt like a huge miss to me and this fourth book, though much better, still felt like it was missing something.  The story was good, but I think the first book is still my favorite.  This series was a wonderful introduction into the world of dystopian literature for a younger reader.  It wasn't too scary or dark (no pun intended) and the stories all resolved nicely.  The best part of this series was reading it along with my son and discussing it with him.  That, you just can't beat.