Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: The Elite by Kiera Cass

The Elite by Kiera Cass
Rating: 3 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "Thirty-five girls came to the palace to compete in the Selection. All but six have been sent home. And only one will get to marry Prince Maxon and be crowned princess of Illea.

America still isn’t sure where her heart lies. When she’s with Maxon, she’s swept up in their new and breathless romance, and can’t dream of being with anyone else. But whenever she sees Aspen standing guard around the palace, and is overcome with memories of the life they planned to share. With the group narrowed down to the Elite, the other girls are even more determined to win Maxon over—and time is running out for America to decide.

Just when America is sure she’s made her choice, a devastating loss makes her question everything again. And while she’s struggling to imagine her future, the violent rebels that are determined to overthrow the monarchy are growing stronger and their plans could destroy her chance at any kind of happy ending."

Review: The Selection was a cupcake of a book.  This, its sequel, also tasted like a cupcake, but it was a sort of stale cupcake.

The Selection could have been really annoying.  On the surface, reading about 35 girls all fighting for one guy sounds awful.  I probably wouldn't have read it if it wasn't recommended so highly to me.  No one was as surprised as I was at how much I liked The Selection.  Maybe my estimation is overly high, considering how low my expectations were.  But the truth remains, I really enjoyed it.  

So I was excited to start reading The Elite.  And The Elite was... okay.  America, Aspen, Maxon, Marlee, and the whole gang are back and they are all... exactly the same as they were in the previous book.  The plot continues, though I wouldn't say it advanced.  It more proceeded in a straight line, relying on the momentum of the first book, rather than giving its readers a new ride.  The story was solid enough to keep me engaged, but didn't feel all that new.  

Looking back, not a whole lot progressed between the first page and the last.  (For comparison's sake, 29 girls are eliminated in The Selection.  In The Elite, only 2 are eliminated  in the whole book.  Clearly, things have slowed down tremendously.)  America herself went through a lovely transformation in The Selection, learning about herself and becoming strong and independent.  In The Elite, she mostly just wavers between her two lovers, paralyzed by her inability to pick one.  Her feisty nature still appears here and there, but her character development isn't much increased.  The rebels appear here and there, but we don't learn much more about who they are or what they want.  At the end of The Elite we are essentially still in the same place as we were at the end of The Selection.

Thus the stale taste.

There were some really nice moments, however.  America's ferocity as she tried to help Marlee was really moving.  I liked reading about their friendship a lot.  There was one moment where calm and quiet Elise, another girl in the Selection, point blank tells America that she wouldn't stop Maxon from sending America home, even if she knew he was doing so unfairly.  She is not being harsh or trying to hurt America, just reminding her that it's a competition and that she's in it to win it, as they say.  I liked how Cass illustrated how two people can be in the exact same situation and have such totally different outlooks.  I liked how King Clarkson became more menacing in this book, though I fear that he's turning into a stereotypical one-note villain.  The scene with the Italian delegation was fun to read about, especially for me since I've lived in Italy and speak Italian and love that warm and open and sometimes really loud culture.  So there were definitely moments I enjoyed, but the whole didn't quite measure up to its predecessor.  

Here are my hopes for the final book in the trilogy: I hope to learn more about Queen Amberly, and about her and King Clarkson's relationship; I hope the Italians make another appearance; I hope the conflict with the rebels becomes more defined; I hope the caste system is overthrown; I hope the country gets a look at Celeste's true colors; I hope America figures out who she is and what she really wants.

And I hope America picks Maxon.  They're both flawed, but I think they complement each other nicely.  My prediction is that Lucy and Aspen end up together.  Thoughts?

Weekly Words: Tahereh Mafi

Oral history and stoytelling...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Feature Friday: New J.K. Rowling Stuff on Pottermore

If you’re Quidditch™_World_Cup_Poster_-_Harry_Potter_and_the_Goblet_of_Fire™[1]looking for a new Harry Potter fix, check out Pottermore. On Friday the site announced the release of new original work by JK Rowling, and the first part is now available to be read online.
The History of the Quidditch World Cup is a 2,400 word history of the fictional game Rowling invented for the series. It’s played by witches and wizards on flying broomsticks, and is a key plot point in a couple of the novels.
“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to publish such an imaginative and engaging story from J.K. Rowling about the history of the Wizarding world’s most exciting sport,” said Susan L. Jurevics, Chief Executive Officer, Pottermore.  “We’re committed to being the only digital destination where fans can discover new original content about the world of Harry Potter from J.K. Rowling.  ‘History of the Quidditch World Cup’ helps us not only fulfill that mission, but it also serves to entertain and delight our community.”Pottermore_2852181b[1]The History is going to be released in 2 parts. The first section, which was posted today, focuses on historical background about the tournament, information about how the tournament works, and examples of controversial tournaments, including the infamous 1877 match played in Kazakhstan’s Ryn Desert now known as the Tournament that Nobody Remembers.  The second section will be published next Friday. It will feature amusing recaps of some notable recent matches that have been held every four years since 1990.
Based on the quotes provided in the press release, it sounds like an amusing read. For example: “The rulebook concerning both on- and off-pitch magic is alleged to stretch to nineteen volumes and to include such rules as ‘no dragon is to be introduced into the stadium for any purpose including, but not limited to, team mascot, coach or cup warmer’ and ‘modification of any part of the referee’s body, whether or not he or she has requested such modifications, will lead to a lifetime ban from the tournament and possibly imprisonment.’”

I don't know about you, but I thought Pottermore was kind of a disappointment.  New material by J.K. might get me to go back, though. 


Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Selection by Kiera Cass: Dream Cast

So, I blew through The Selection and The Elite by Kiera Cass this past week.  Apparently the last book in the trilogy doesn't come out for another month-and-a-half, though.  WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THIS?  

To pass the time while I wait for The One to be released, I decided to make a cast list.  When in doubt, cast a nonexistent movie.  Works every time.

To tell you the truth, I always pictured my beautiful red-headed cousin in the role of America while I was reading.  (I have several beautiful red-headed cousins, but for whatever reason, one in particular played America in my head.)  As this particular cousin has a life and a career and dreams that do not include acting, I had to find another actress for the role.  (However, should she decide to rearrange her whole life to accommodate my fictitious film adaptations, she would certainly be my first pick.)  

That being said, here's who I would cast in The Selection by Kiera Cass:

Young Jessica Chastain as America Singer

Alternate (not-almost-40-year-old) option: Emma Watson as America Singer.  
Emma would make a great redhead.

Dean Geyer as Prince Maxon

Robert Sheehan as Aspen Ledger

Blake Lively as Marlee

Camilla Belle as Celeste

Keiko Kitagawa as Elise

Erinn Westbrook as Kriss

Aimee Teegarden as Natalie

Holly Marie Combs as Anne

Joanne Froggatt as Mary

Anne Hathaway as Lucy

Josh Brolin as King Clarkson

Penelope Cruz as Queen Amberley

Eleanor Bron as Sylvia

Ceasar Flickerman as Gavril Fedaye
(kidding... sort of...)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book-to-Film: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is on track to be made into a film.  Kenneth Branagh is set to direct and Kate Winslet is set to star as the title character, Juliet Ashton.  The film is being backed by 20th Century Fox and the script is being written by Don Roos.  This is a reunion of sorts for Branagh and Winslet, who previously worked together in Branagh's Hamlet, where he directed and played the title character, and Winslet played Ophelia.

From IndieWire:
Winslet will play Julie Ashton, a magazine writer who begins a correspondence with a man from the Channel Islands (a British archipelago off the coast of France), who details life under Nazi occupation during World War Two, and the titular book group, a cover for resistance to the occupation. She travels to Jersey to help the islanders tell their stories, and romance, as you might imagine, blossoms.
I'm a fan of the Winslet/Branagh combo, and have high hopes for this one.  They're still in the planning stages, but this book was a pretty big hit, and people generally like seeing WWII adaptations, so I'm hopeful that this film progresses.  We'll see.  I hope they get someone like Gerard Butler or Ben Chaplin to play Dawsey.  Yes?

image via 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Top Ten Bucket List Books

I'm participating in today's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's prompt is:

Top Ten Things on my Bookish Bucket List

Sooooo I don't really have a bookish bucket list.  Reading itself is enough of a challenge and a pleasure that I don't set any other reading-related goals.  HOWEVER, there are those books out there, you know, those big huge literary Picassos that demand to be read if you ever want to deem yourself a bookish aficionado.  The kind of books that show up on every "top books to read before you die" list.  The kind of books that line your favorite professor's office shelves.  The kind of books you can bring up at a dinner party with frenemies and feel smug.  I've read some of them.  But not all of them.  I'd like to read them all someday, though.  So here, you go, the literary Mount Everests I aim to tackle before I die:

10. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

9. Crime and Punnishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

8. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy CHECK!

7. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

6. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville CHECK!

5. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

4. Ulysses by James Joyce

3. Finnegan's Wake by James Joyce

2. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes CHECK!

1. The Bible by Various Authors CHECK!

Four out of six isn't too bad, I guess.  I figure if I read one a decade I'll have them all checked off before I die... so long as I don't die until I'm 90.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

The Selection by Kiera Cass
Rating: 4 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself--and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined."

Review: Although this book has been out for a couple of years, and although I have many friends who have already read it, I went into this book knowing almost nothing about it.  About two chapters in, I predicted that this book was going to be a cross between The Bachelor and The Hunger Games.  I was partially right.  Really, this book was a cross of about a dozen different books.  Really, I kept getting deja vu from other YA novels, in addition to The Bachelor.  Here are some the parallels I found:

  • The Bachelor: This one is the most obvious. 35 girls competing for one man, who are also not allowed to date anyone else even though their "boyfriend" is dating dozens of other people at once?  CHECK.
  • The Hunger Games: Girl unwillingly enters a competition and is surprised to find she's good at it.  (The Selection mercifully has far fewer deaths, though.)  Both feature a Ceaser Flickerman type character as well.
  • Throne of Glass: Love triangle between the girl, the prince, and the soldier.
  • Princess Academy: Group of girls train together to become the next princess, though none of them know which the prince will pick as his bride.
  • Beauty Queens: Group of girls get stuck together and, rather than become enemies, become friends.  (Mostly.)
  • Wither: Girls get prettied up to be presented to The Guy, are supposed to act like they love him, regardless of whether they really do or not.
  • Matched: Love triangle, undercover rebellion attacking The Authorities, of whom the protagonist knows very little.
  • Divergent: Caste system firmly in place - the plentiful Eights are totally the Factionless. 
So, obviously there was a reason I kept thinking, "I think I've read this before..."  I had.  In about a dozen other books.  But you know what?  I liked those books, and I liked this book, too.

I just finished talking about how love stories are more a matter of characterization than plot.  This is another good example of that.  There is a plot outside of Who The Girl Will End Up With, but it's not that important.  (Yet.  I suspect it will get bigger in the subsequent novels.)  So there was some action, but not that much.  That was okay, though.  I didn't read for the action.  I read because I liked Mer, and because I wanted to know what would happen.  I liked how grounded and forthcoming she was, and cared about many of the side characters as well.  Reading this book kind of gave me a peek into what a Behind-the-Scenes episode of The Bachelor would be like, how some people can be completely different in front of the camera, and how what you see isn't necessarily what's real.  

So while this book won't win any awards for originality, I still really liked it and am looking forward to continuing the series.

Lastly, three cheers for the girl in the ball gown on the cover ACTUALLY HAVING SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE STORY.  Amazing.

Weekly Words: Annonymous

book hoarding

Friday, March 21, 2014

Feature Friday: 22 Books You Should Read Now Based on Your Childhood Favorites

I recently came across this article at Buzzfeed, and thought it was so fun that I'm re-posting the whole thing here. Happy Friday!
Christina Lu / BuzzFeed

1. If you loved The Giver, you should read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

Both novels tell of sheltered future societies gone wrong: the “Sameness” paradise of The Giver and the isolated boarding school ofNever Let Me Go, Hailsham. But each of these supposed utopias harbor secrets, and the significance of Hailsham’s own “sameness” is the darkest of all. What happens when the residents grow up and figure it out?

2. If you loved Redwall, you should read George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fireseries.

Rich, generation-spanning histories. Magic and mythology. Epic warfare. Feuding families. Badass ladies. So many feasts. Both series are chock-full of all of it. The world of A Song of Ice and Fire just happens to be inhabited by humans, not mice.

3. If you loved Sideways Stories From Wayside School, you should read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.

The brilliant and hilarious Catch-22, which follows Captain John Yossarian as he fights in the U.S. Air Force, is all about the absurdities of bureaucracy. And while the themes of the war novel are understandably darker, the shenanigans are similarly inane — from a bomber pilot holding rubber balls in his hands as a way to distract from the crabapples in his cheeks, to the Wayside School student who can’t count in the correct order but always lands at the right number.

4. If you loved the Harry Potter series, you should read Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.

Brooklyn teenager Quentin Coldwater of The Magicians likely grew up reading about Harry Potter. It’s the reason he spends his days wishing magic were real, and the reason he’s so excited when his fantasy is seemingly fulfilled by acceptance into the Brakebills Academy for magicians. But the magic world of The Magicians is a bit more tempered by reality — the studies are tedious, the practice is mired in bureaucracy — and even when Quentin discovers how far-reaching this magic is, he’s still not immune to some standard post-grad disillusionment.

5. If you loved Anne of Green Gables, you should read Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls Trilogy.

Kate and Baba of The Country Girls are like bosom friends Anne Shirley and Diana Barry, but if Anne and Diana eventually made their way out of the country and into the city. In this controversial trilogy, the girls — romantic, adventurous, and rule-breaking — leave their idyllic hometown for Dublin, where they pursue their passions side by side.

6. If you loved Ramona Quimby, Age 8, you should read Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake.

We all loved Ramona Quimby because she was relatable, a little strange, and always hilarious. Same goes for Sloane Crosley, whose sharp, endearing, and laugh-out-loud personal essays tell stories of angry bosses, misadventures at the Museum of Natural History, baking mishaps, and more.

7. If you loved Holes, you should read Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Both Holes and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao read as modern mythology, featuring two curse-afflicted protagonists who can’t catch a break. They’re tales of misfits and survival, and the cruelty that Oscar faces as an overweight Dominican-American teen obsessed with sci-fi is just as harsh and alienating as that of Stanley Yelnats’ prison camp.

8. If you loved Bridge to Terabithia, you should read Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings.

At its core, Bridge to Terabithia is about friendship, especially the kind that is strengthened by shared creativity and imagination. InThe Interestings, Meg Wolitzer explores that bond — focusing on six teens who meet at a summer camp for the arts — and looks at what happens when it extends into adulthood.

9. If you loved Ender’s Game, you should read William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

If you were drawn into the apocalyptic cyberpunk future depicted in Ender’s Game, you’ll eat Neuromancer up. Ender is at times a reluctant hero, and Gibson’s has-been hacker Case is similarly unlikely — but when a dangerous artificial intelligence threatens Earth, it’s Case (working with a dead man and a street fighter) who has the power to save the world.

10. If you loved The Devil’s Arithmetic, you should read Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred.

Both novels use time travel to illuminate horrific moments of history — The Devil’s Arithmetic sending its protagonist to the Holocaust and Kindred sending Dana to the slave quarters of antebellum South. The 26-year-old Dana travels back and forth, though, jumping between her happy life in California and life-threatening experiences as a slave until she figures out what she’s being sent back to do.

11. If you loved Walk Two Moons, you should read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Walk Two Moons is a story within a story, told by a girl longing for her missing mother. The tale she weaves is fantastical, tinged with spirituality, mysticism, grief, a bit of romance, and rich descriptions of the land. Marquez’s epic masterpiece widens the scope of each of those themes. In a long and entrancing history of the mythical town of Macondo, he writes about love, revolution, prosperity, loss, and the tragic rise and fall of a family.

12. If you loved The Phantom Tollbooth, you should read Neil Gaiman’s Stardust.

It’s the playfulness of The Phantom Tollbooth that wins over its readers (and, really, it’s one of the children’s books that warrants revisiting), and Neil Gaiman’s Stardust captures that same sense expertly. When Tristan Thorn embarks on a quest to find a fallen star, he encounters witches, elf-lords, a captain of a flying ship, and all manners of eccentrics that will stay with the reader long after the book is finished.

13. If you loved The Hobbit, you should read Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road.

So it doesn’t have any hobbits or wizards, but what Gentlemen of the Road lacks in fantasy it more than makes up for in action, adventure, and enthralling characters. Zelikman and Amram, physican and ex-soldier respectively, make their way through the Caucasus Mountains in the year 950, fighting and stealing and somehow getting in the middle of a full-scale revolution.

14. If you loved Harriet the Spy, you should read Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Harriet M. Welsch is easily one of the most lovable heroines of YA fiction, for her passion, independence, and fearlessness. Twelve-year-old Paloma of The Elegance of the Hedgehog is cut of the same cloth — a talented, precocious, and curious wunderkind who befriends similar eccentrics in her Parisian apartment building, and who’s mysteriously decided her life will end by her 13th birthday.

15. If you loved A Wrinkle In Time, you should read Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!

Twelve-year-old Ava of Swamplandia! doesn’t travel through space and time, but she does travel through the Floridian swamps all on her own and, like Meg Murry of A Wrinkle in Time, her bravery is for the sake of her family. As Ava sets off to save their alligator-wrestling dynasty, she travels deep into a beautifully surreal and somewhat mystical landscape, encountering dangerous strangers and creatures alike.

16. If you loved Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, you should read Melissa Bank’s The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing.

The troubles that Margaret Simon experiences in the Judy Blume classic — romantic anxiety, body confusion, the awkwardness of fitting in with new friends — are especially potent in the preteen years but by no means limited to them. Melissa Bank proves this as she follows protagonist Jane Rosenal from age 14 to her mid-twenties in a series of hilarious and heartbreaking stories of navigating love, work, and life.

17. If you loved James and the Giant Peach, you should read Haruki Murakami’sKafka on the Shore.

Roald Dahl was the master of bringing the surreal to life, peopling his world with talking bugs, cartoonishly evil adults, and a peach large enough to live in. Murakami is similar in his ability to fill his readers with metaphysical wonder, and he is most successful inKafka on the Shore. Teenager Kafka Tamura sets off on a search for his mother and sister, with the elderly Nakata as his unlikely partner. Together the two encounter a slightly altered reality, full of riddles, talking cats, a rainstorm of fish, and a mysterious murder.

18. If you loved A Series of Unfortunate Events, you should read Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son.

In The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson tells a tale that could very well be described as a series of unfortunate events, and in a similar vein as Lemony Snicket’s series. It follows the young and motherless Pak Jun Do as he makes his way in North Korea, coming up against harsh demands and arbitrary violence in a thrilling and at times harrowing tale of lost innocence.

19. If you loved Hatchet, you should read Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon A River.

Brian has his hatchet and Margo has her rifle, and both are fending for themselves in these stories of survival. Their isolations are different though; where Brian is alone in the wilderness after surviving a plane crash, 16-year-old Margo is traveling along the Stark River in rural and sparsely populated Michigan in search of her long-lost mother. The dangers she encounters are real and and often disturbing, but her perseverance is legendary.

20. If you loved When Kambia Elaine Flew In From Neptune, you should read Toni Morrison’s Sula.

Both When Kambia Elaine Flew in From Neptune and Sula have at their cores stories of children who are forced to grow up too fast. They tell of violence in the household, the effects of poverty, experiences of racism, and above all the way that two friends can carry each other along. Toni Morrison’s classic Sula begins in childhood, and follows young Sula and Nel as they survive life in the Bottom (which shares a name with Kambia Elaine’s hometown, though the former is in Ohio and the latter is in Texas) and test their friendship as they go separate ways in adulthood.

21. If you loved The Westing Game, you should read Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

What was great about The Westing Game wasn’t necessarily the mystery, but the characters involved in it. It was suspenseful, for sure, but it was fun and at times even funny. Robin Sloan captures that feeling in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a fast-paced and heady mystery that follows a former web designer who suspects there’s something more to the bookstore he’s taking shifts at. As he delves into analysis with his eclectic friends, he uncovers a world of secret societies, mysterious literati, and a web of technological riddles.

22. If you loved the Goosebumps series, you should read John Ajvide Lindqvist’sHarbor.

John Ajvide Lindqvist is the master of old-school horror, and his eery ghost story Harbor will have you sleeping with the lights on for weeks. Set in the icy desolation of a fictional Scandinavian island, Lindqvist creates a world of mysterious disappearances, dark magic, stalking phantoms, and an angry and insatiable sea.