Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Requiem by Lauren Oliver

Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
Format: Hardcover
Page Count: 391
Synopsis: Now an active member of the resistance, Lena has been transformed. The nascent rebellion that was under way in Pandemonium has ignited into an all-out revolution in Requiem, and Lena is at the center of the fight.

After rescuing Julian from a death sentence, Lena and her friends fled to the Wilds. But the Wilds are no longer a safe haven—pockets of rebellion have opened throughout the country, and the government cannot deny the existence of Invalids. Regulators now infiltrate the borderlands to stamp out the rebels, and as Lena navigates the increasingly dangerous terrain, her best friend, Hana, lives a safe, loveless life in Portland as the fiancĂ©e of the young mayor.

Requiem is told from both Lena’s and Hana’s points of view. The two girls live side by side in a world that divides them until, at last, their stories converge.
Review: Where to start... There was probably a lot riding on this book. It's the conclusion to a well-loved trilogy, and based on how Pandemonium ended, Requiem should have tied up many different plots. But it didn't. Not completely.

   Requiem starts off slowly. It moves consistently, but it's rather uneventful. And in all honesty, it lacks the passion and romance and beauty that were abundant in the first two installments. It's that kind of passion that made me a fan of this dystopian trilogy, because the love all felt heartfelt. This book strayed from that kind of theme, and instead, turned to the road of plotting action and executing it in a way that I thought was boring.

   It's a dual POV narrative, which I didn't think was all that necessary. I didn't feel like Hana's story was so important that half of the book had to be told in her perspective. This might be because I never liked Hana in Delirium. She was more likable in this novel, but I still am not a huge fan of her character.

   In the previous books, I really liked Lena. But in this installment, she frustrated me. I hated the way she treated Julian. (***Mild spoilers for Pandemonium***) If I brought Julian into the Wilds, promising a great life of freedom, and the Wilds ended up being a nightmare, I would feel ashamed. I would feel so sorry for Julian and embarrassed by my promise. But no. Instead, Lena felt ashamed of Julian. Julian, the boy that trusted her word and escaped the world he had known just because he loved her. Julian, the boy who was trying so hard to fit in to the Wilds. (***End of spoilers***) Honestly, I wasn't won over by Julian in the previous book, but I really liked his character in this book. It revolted me how Lena treated Julian in this book because he honestly didn't do anything to deserve it.

   I thought this book was very predictable. I feel like Lauren Oliver took the most obvious route for the plot and added the most cliche drama/tension. I felt everything coming before it happened, and I was disappointed by the lack of originality and creativity.

   The beginning was slow, and then the ending was rushed. Everything happened so quickly, and Lauren Oliver didn't elaborate enough on the way things concluded. Hana's plotline was left dangling helplessly. The reconciliation between Lena and her love was ridiculously short and passionless, and this happened without any sever between Lena and the boy she didn't choose.

   All in all, I was disappointed by Requiem. I expected much more from it, including better development and a satisfying conclusion. It wasn't a bad book. Lauren Oliver's writing is still great, and she tells the story well. It just wasn't what I was hoping it would be.

   3 keys.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Publication Date: September 1, 2005
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 550
Synopsis (from back of the book because I like it better than the Goodreads one): It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

By her brother's graveside, Liesel Meminger's life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Grave Digger's Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor's wife's library, wherever there are books to be found.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel's foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel's world is both opened up and closed down.

Review: I don't know how to start this review. But I do know that this is probably going to be looooong. Be prepared, and if you make it to the end of the review, I seriously love you. I guess I'll first list my initial thoughts while reading this book.

   Initial thoughts:

  • The narrator is... Death? What? That's cool.
  • I feel no attachment to Liesel. 
  • Liesel is so selfish.
  • Markus Zusak, your writing style is definitely strange.
  • Where is the plot? Honestly!
   As said, those were my initial thoughts. My initial thoughts are extremely different from my final ones. Here's a little hint on how I feel about this book: I stayed up reading this book, shed so many tears that the rhythm of the droplets hitting my blanket began to resemble a soft drum beat, and upon finishing the book, stayed awake for perhaps an hour before closing my eyes long enough to fall asleep. 

   I'm going to be honest and say that if The Book Thief wasn't my required reading for school this upcoming year, I would have probably dropped it and never looked back. The first half of the novel (and I seriously mean the first half! I wasn't invested until well over 200 pages in) was dull, in my opinion. I felt like there was no urge for me to keep reading. I couldn't identify the main plot, nor did I have an ounce of desire to follow the rest of Liesel's story. Thank goodness to BookTube-a-thon (a YouTube readathon) and the fact that it's my summer reading, otherwise, I probably wouldn't have finished this book. I was honestly spending weeks on this one book that everyone had praised so, so much. That's another thing: everyone under the sun seems to be obsessed with this book, and when I started reading, I felt so left out because I couldn't understand the hype at all. 

   Liesel was a character I didn't like for a long time before slowly changing my mind. I think this was because the protagonist and the narrator are not one and the same. The narrator is Death himself which I thought was a really great and unique idea. However, because of this, I felt distant when it came to Liesel. I was receiving her story second-hand and I didn't have an emotional connection to her. On several occasions, I found her extremely selfish, and in turn, found myself disliking her. 

   This all changed around half-way in. Something changed for me. There was a plot suddenly. Liesel developed as a character. Of course, she still had flaws, but there was more to her than the things I disliked. Her relationships with all the characters suddenly glowed right in my face. I especially loved the development of Hans Hubermann, Liesel's foster father, and Max Vandenburg, the Jew they hide in their basement. Both characters were so compelling to read about, I just loved them. And, of course, I absolutely adored Rudy Steiner. 

   After finishing the book, I understand now. I understand why so many people love and praise this novel. I see the investment that people put into this book. Based on my experience, after finishing the book, I felt like I had lost a piece of my soul within the 550 pages. The ending of this novel affected me so much. I had no idea this book could do that to me, especially after such a rocky start. 

   Back to Death as a narrator. (Sorry for the lack of organization in this review. So many scattered thoughts!) I found it unique, but I feel like there were flaws. (Obviously not everyone will agree with me on this.) I thought that Death was an inconsistent narrator. There are times when he makes snarky comments, and there are other times where his monologue-ish thoughts are really mushy. And when it came to the plot, it was the most non-linear plot I've ever encountered. Death likes to jump back and forth, revealing spoilers that will happen in a few years or a few months, and then he goes back in time. He tells you what's going to happen and then goes back to lead up to it. I don't exactly know how I felt about that. 

   As mentioned before, Markus Zusak's writing is strange. Honestly, I can't think of a better word to fit his writing style. I'm sure many readers are eager to label Zusak's writing as "beautiful" and "poetic," which in some cases, is very, very true! Please don't get me wrong. But at other times, he makes the strangest analogies. His figurative language ranges from "wow, that was breathtaking" to "how does that even make sense." My friend fell in love with Zusak's prose, as many other readers did, but I'm not a quick fan. Some things were just so weirdly worded, or the analogies were so far-fetched, that I couldn't help but choose strange over beautiful

   I think that's all I wanted to mention. I understand that this review is ridiculously lengthy. There is just so much I had to say about this novel. Based on my reading experience, The Book Thief is a certain kind of gem that needs a bit of polish before you can see its beauty. But once the dirt is gone, prepare to be blinded by how this novel shines.

   4.5 keys.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Format: Hardcover
Page Count: 435
Synopsis: Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough.

Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo's sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.

Emaline's mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he's convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?

Emaline wants the moon and more, but how can she balance where she comes from with where she's going?

Sarah Dessen's devoted fans will welcome this story of romance, yearning, and, finally, empowerment. It could only happen in the summer.
Review: If you know me, you know I'm a big Dessen fan. I've yet to encounter one of her books that I loved as much as The Truth About Forever, but Dessen still manages to make me invested in her characters, their story, and how one summer allows for their development.

   People critique Dessen by saying her books are calculated and formulaic. And, yes, while I'll admit that it's pretty true, The Moon and More kind of throws readers for a loop. While there are still the constant Dessen elements of personal growth, family issues, and romance, it's the last one that is significantly different in this book. It's not as different as in Dreamland (because, let's face it, Rogerson is the opposite of a classic Dessen boy), but neither love interest is like Wes or Dexter or Owen.

   First, let's talk about our main character, Emaline. Emaline is a girl who has lived her whole life in Colby. She loves the beach town, but she yearns for something more. Part of her wants to stay with her roots, but another part of her wants to break free and do, see, discover something more than Colby. She's smart on paper (hello, the girl got accepted into Columbia!), but I don't think she really acted all that studious or intelligent. However, I did become fond of her character. She's hardworking, even when she doesn't have to be, and she's nice. She wants to help almost everyone, which sometimes can be annoying on other characters, but I didn't feel that way with Emaline.

   Emaline and Luke have been dating since freshman year, which is quite impressive. And in this small town, that's basically like paving the path to marriage. But then Luke does something despicable, and the couple splits. This is where I had a problem. Considering they've been together throughout all of high school, Luke did something to basically end that. It seemed extremely out of character to me. I felt like it was just a catalyst in the plot to create room for the new love interest, Theo. But I digress.

   Oh, Theo. This boy drove me up a wall sometimes. Dessen manages to create an unlikable love interest in Theo. And it's not an extreme dislike either, considering he doesn't abuse the main character (Rogerson from Dreamland), nor does he get the main character in a car accident that leaves her hospitalized (Macon from Someone Like You). No, he's just... not likable? He almost has the dorky, nerdy appeal that sometimes gains momentum, but then he'll do something that erases all progress. He is labeled as sophisticated and exciting in the synopsis, but in reality, he's immature, egocentric, and embarrassing. (He's the kind of boyfriend that makes a big show about every. little. thing.)

   More on Emaline. I liked her character a lot. She wasn't as passive as some of Dessen's other leads, but she definitely didn't do much whenever Theo did something embarrassing. I wanted Emaline to step up for herself and maybe even do the smallest of things like telling Theo she didn't want to go to an Asian restaurant. But there is one thing that I loved about Emaline: the kind of ex-girlfriend she is. She's not at all one of those catty ex-girlfriends that thinks mean thoughts if her ex has moved on. She doesn't close off all ties with her ex. No. She just acts normally and kindly and it's a breath of fresh air! She acts like a great ex-girlfriend should, which I positively adored.

   I feel like Emaline's relationship with her immediate family (including her step-family) was sacrificed for the emphasis with her relationship with her half-brother, Benji, and her father. I understood why it was chosen to put the focus there, and Dessen does include little snippets of a growing relationship between Emaline and her step-sisters, but I kind of wish it was a more well-rounded family development.

   All in all, I really enjoyed The Moon and More. If I could fix something, it would be plot. The plot does move pretty slowly, which made it difficult to keep on reading. However, overall, The Moon and More spotlights a teenage girl trying to balance her own growth while strengthening her relationships with the people she cares about. Though I don't think it's Dessen's best novel, I still liked it, and I'd recommend it to other Dessen fans.

   4 keys.

P.S. Sorry for all the references and comparisons to Dessen's other works. I know some people probably won't like that, but it's difficult to refrain when you've read so many of the same author's other books!
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