Archive for ‘Reviews’

March 6, 2012

Matched by Ally Condie

Matched  by Ally Condie.

Matched Trilogy, book 1, c2010

Unabridged audio available – Read by Kate Simses.

In Matched, Cassia, our narrator, lives in a highly structured society (imaginatively called The Society) that controls everything.  Those in power have made a formal procedure of the marriage process.  When children are 17 years old, they attend a matching banquet at their City Hall.  (Cassia hasn’t set foot in City Hall until her matching banquet and she’s been looking forward to this night for what seems like forever.)  It is one of the only times in their lives where those being matched are allowed to wear fun, colorful dress clothing and eat rich and extravagant food.  Normally everyone eats bland but nutritionally appropriate foods.  There is such a level of control over their lives, that the government monitors each person’s caloric needs and delivers food to meet those individual needs.  They don’t even cook for themselves.

At the banquet, Cassia finds out she has been matched with her best friend Xander. It seems like the perfect fit and she is very lucky and appreciative.  Most people are not usually matched with someone they know and like.  In fact, most of the time matches take one person or the other far from their homes and families forever. Unique as it is to find her optimal match in her childhood friend, even more strange is the fact that her match disk also “accidentally” contains another match for her.  She can’t help but wonder how and why this could’ve happened and what it means.

When the book opens, we see an idyllic community.  Life is good.  The Society has given them the ultimate gift–time.  People live longer and better than any other people in the history of the world, in large part because of the matching process and the physically and mentally healthy offspring it produces.  Yes, things are a lot more structured than we are used to, in our country full of personal choice. But so what if people are exposed to a very restricted amount of information? (Years before the book begins, The Society appointed commissions to choose the 100 best of everything; songs, paintings, stories, poems, etc. The rest were eliminated.) Is it really such a big deal that you are only allowed to own one artifact from the past?  That there’s a curfew?  That you aren’t allowed to learn handwriting?  That jobs are determined through assessment and assigned by The Society? That your dreams are periodically monitored and you are never truly alone in your homes?   Everyone seems to have what they need to live a comfortable and stress free life. Their basic needs are provided for.  Is lack of choice really all that important when everyone has food, shelter and work? When everyone has enough?

That is a question readers will have to answer for themselves.  “I wish you optimal results.”

I look forward to reading the next book in the trilogy—Crossed.  This book also reminds me of Divergent by Veronica Roth and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Learn more about the Matched trilogy at Ally Condie’s website.

January 24, 2012

Bookbyte: The Future of Us

What would you do if you could see your future? How would you try to change it? The Future of Us is about the journey from adolescence to adulthood, and learning that you can, in fact, control your own future.

Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler (authors of Thirteen Reasons Why and The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, respectively) have co-written a book with a unique premise. It’s 1996, and two friends, Josh and Emma, are dialing up to the Internet for the first time. Cue bloorpy 56k modem noises… now. Josh has given one of those ubiquitous AOL CDs to Emma. (Remember those? We never lacked for a coaster in the 90s.) When Emma signs up for AOL, she gets more than “You’ve Got Mail” and the world’s worst customer service; she gets access to her Facebook page 15 years in the future.

What would you do if you could see your future? How would you try to change it? Josh likes his future–married, with children, to one of the most popular girls in high school. Emma doesn’t like hers–she’s unhappily married, and not happy with where she lives or her career. (She’s also one of the most annoying people on Facebook. You know, the kind who whine & complain All. The. Time. But that’s beside the point.) They learn that the smallest of decisions can affect their own futures, and the futures of their friends.

The Future of Us has appeal for two generations–today’s teens and those who grew up in the 90s. The 90s references are sprinkled throughout. They’re used for fun, nostalgic moments, and not really critical to the plot. The time-traveling conceit is never fully explained, but it doesn’t need to be. The Future of Us is about the journey from adolescence to adulthood, and learning that you can, in fact, control your own future.

Learn more about The Future of Us at Jay Asher’s and Carolyn Macker’s websites.

January 17, 2012

Review – Divergent by Veronica Roth

“Divergent is about making choices, learning about and depending on yourself, and doing the right thing in the face of insurmountable odds.”

Divergent’s story takes place in Chicago, sometime in the future. Society has been restructured. It’s been long enough since whatever great cataclysm happened (probably war), that the younger generation has no idea what is beyond the city limits.  Within the city, people live very structured lives in accordance to the faction they belong to.  Factions are defined by the personality traits the people in the faction value.  The five factions are Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent).   Each faction believes their way of life is best. When people turn sixteen, they are given an aptitude test to determine what faction they belong in. This one test determines the path for the rest of each person’s life.

It’s Beatrice “Tris” Prior’s turn to choose.  But she feels like she doesn’t fit in.  Is there something wrong with her?  Should she stay where she doesn’t belong, living a life of meek selflessness in order to be with her family?  Or should she leave them behind forever and face a harrowing and violent initiation, in order to be true to herself?  What if she fails?  Failure to successfully complete the initiation is a real possibility and means being factionless.  The factionless live on the streets, with no way to support themselves.  They have to depend on the kindness of the Abnegation faction. No one wants to live a factionless life.  As if contemplating all of that isn’t scary enough, her decision is further complicated when she learns she has a secret that could mean her death if she reveals it.  But it looks to her like she isn’t the only one hiding something….

Divergent is about making choices, learning about and depending on yourself, and doing the right thing in the face of insurmountable odds. Oh, and there’s a bit of romance as well.  I enjoyed the book because the characters are well drawn. The plot is compelling, believable and thought provoking.  People who like strong female characters will love the book.

Divergent reminded me of Matched by Ally Condie.  (In Matched, Cassia lives in a highly structured Society that makes a ritual of the marriage process.  But her unusual experience with the process makes her believe maybe the Society isn’t as perfect as she thought.)  It also reminded me of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  (The Hunger Games is  character-driven and tells the story of a post-apocalyptic government that forces representatives of each of the 12 Districts to fight to the death in an arena every year.  But what kind of sadistic government would force this penance on teenagers?  Can Katniss Everdeen survive the ordeal?)

Veronica Roth has done a wonderful job with this, her first novel.  I’m looking forward to the second in the trilogy, Insurgent, due out in May of 2012.

Fun Fact: Divergent has been optioned for a feature film. Who would your ideal cast be?

You can learn more about Divergent and the rest of the trilogy at the books’ fansite. The unabridged audiobook is read by Emma Galvin.

– Heidi

March 16, 2011

Bookbyte: Gods in Alabama

Our book club read Joshilyn Jackson’s gods in Alabama. Unfortunately, I had to miss the meeting, but I did read the book. So instead of a book club recap, we’ll just have a  review.

gods is a fast-paced, humorous, Southern-flavored romp. It has a killer opening line: “There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.” The titular gods are lower case in the title for a reason.

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March 10, 2011

Bookbyte: A Red Herring Without Mustard

Red HerringFlavia de Luce is one of the most witty and memorable characters in fiction today. She hit the scene in 2009 in her debut novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Alan Bradley manages to make believable an eleven-year-old chemistry genius with passion for poison and a vocabulary beyond her years. A lesser author would make her precocious and cartoonish, but brought alive by Bradley’s words, Flavia looks out at you from the the pages, a real girl with wide eyes filled with curiosity.

Her latest adventure, A Red Herring Without Mustard, takes place in the same summer as both Pie and the impeccable follow-up mystery, The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag. That’s a lot of murder in one season in the fictional 1950s English village of Bishop’s Lacey. Flavia runs the risk of becoming a pre-teen Jessica Fletcher if the bodies keep dropping at this rate.

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March 8, 2011

Bookbyte: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Curious IncidentMark Haddon’s debut novel centers around fifteen-year-old Christopher. Christopher lives with his dad. Christopher goes to school every day. Christopher is investigating the murder of his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, who was impaled on the yard with a pitchfork. Christopher is autistic.

Getting inside Christopher’s head is a wild trip, and an exhausting one. He has very strict routines and rules” “Not liking yellow things or brown things and refusing to touch yellow things or brown things. Smashing things when I am angry or confused. Screaming when I am angry of confused.” He is unable to perceive emotions. Dialogs are strictly he said/she said affairs. Christopher is writing this book, so of course he doesn’t mention emotions: they’re foreign concepts to him. Haddon has crafted a strong, memorable voice for his unique protagonist.

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March 2, 2011

March Recommendations

For the month of March, Chance recommends the following four books:

Moving Pictures – Terry Pratchett

Moving PicturesThe first Sir Terry book I read, and I was instantly hooked on the wildly imaginative Discworld series. Ankh-Morpork, the largest city on the Disc (a flat planet on the back of four elephants on a giant sea turtle swimming through space) gets Holy Wood fever! Grab a bag of banged grains (aka popcorn) and curl up with high fantasy humor more action packed than the latest clickie (film) blockbuster!

Did you know? Sir Terry’s latest book, I Shall Wear Midnight, the fourth book in the Tiffany Aching series, came out in September. Learn more about Pratchett’s incredible Discworld series at his website.

Lost in a Good Book – Jasper Fforde

Lost in a Good BookSkip The Eyre Affair, Fforde’s uneven debut, and dive right into the second installment of the Thursday Next series. Fforde’s literary fantasy goes full-tilt here. The jokes fly faster than Great Expectations‘s Miss Havisham on a high-octane motorbike (although that’s in here too)! Fforde takes classic characters from Brit Lit and gives them a marvelous modern twist.

Did you know? The Thursday Next series currently has five books. Something Rotten is a personal favorite. The sixth volume in the series, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, hits U.S. shelves on March 8th. Learn more about Fforde’s fantastic series at his website.

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February 27, 2011

Bookbyte: The Imperfectionists

Rachman's DebutRachman’s debut novel is a compelling read, although it’s less a novel than a loosely connected series of short stories. There is no over-arching plot. Each story centers around a different person working for (or reading) a dying English-language newspaper in Rome.

In fact, the best way to describe the novel is like a newspaper itself. Forget generic human interest stories, which provide a glossy, manipulative look into the private lives of normal people. Reader’s Digest this ain’t. Rachman’s tales get to the true heart of the human condition: stark, fragile, and desperate for love and for connection. But they all remain relatively isolated from one another.

Ornella de Montericchi, a reader of the newspaper, “never learned the techniques of newspaper reading, so took it in order like a book. She read every article and refused to move on until she was done.” This book can be read like a newspaper too. Skip around if you want, skip entire stories if the person doesn’t interest you (lonely business reporter Hardy Benjamin is a particular snoozer), re-read the tales of the people who do (such as the tragic story of family man Arthur Gopal or pathetic Cairo stringer Winston Cheung trying to break into the big world journalism).

Many of the stories are bleak. Some are downright cruel. Rachman shows that life is fleeting, just like the newspaper industry itself. Maybe we can leave an imprint on the world, even if it is just an ink stain on someone’s fingertips. Even that will eventually wash away.

January 27, 2011

Bookbyte: Chuck Palahniuk’s Diary


Chuck Palahniuk, bestselling author of Fight Club, Choke, and Lullaby (to name a few), continues his 21st century reinvention of the horror novel in this scary and profound look at our quest for some sort of immortality.

Diary takes the form of a “coma diary,” kept by one Misty Wilmot as her husband, Peter Wilmot, lies senseless in a hospital after a suicide attempt. Once she was an aspiring art student, but now after marrying Peter and moving to the once quaint, now tourist-overrun Waytansea Island, she’s been reduced to the condition of hotel maid.

But then, as if possessed, Misty begins painting again, compulsively. But can her newly discovered talent be part of a larger, darker plan?

Of course it can…

Diary is a dark, hilarious, and poignant act of storytelling from America’s favorite, most inventive nihilist. Palahniuk has struck literary gold with Diary. He weaves a tale so taut you have to remind yourself to breathe.

— Emma

January 27, 2011

Bookbyte: The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

A Red Herring Without Mustard

A Red Herring Without Mustard

Alan Bradley’s latest Flavia de Luce mystery, A Red Herring Without Mustard, hits bookshelves on Feb. 8. While eagerly anticipating the latest installment in this exciting new series, I recommend Bradley’s previous Flavia mystery, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, and not just because it has a snappier title.

Flavia de Luce hit the literary scene in 2009 with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Bradley, a Canadian, has created a fresh, smart character and a living, breathing little world.

In Bag, Flavia, an eleven-year-old chemistry enthusiast, lives in the 1950s English town of Bishop’s Lacey. With the help of her trusty bicycle, Gladys, Flavia tries to solve the murder of a famous puppeteer who has been electrocuted on-stage. Flavia’s sharp tongue tends to get her into more trouble than the average eleven-year-old roaming the English countryside might find herself in, but her smarts and knowledge of poisons always gets her out.

Bradley’s writing is witty and the mystery moves at a brisk place. Bag takes Flavia to darker places than Pie does, but the result is a stronger, more compelling work than Bradley’s debut. Here’s hoping Flavia’s third outing is even stronger.

— Chance