Insurgent Book Review

Insurgent by Veronica Roth

In book two of the Divergent series, we begin right where the last book left off. War is looming. Each faction is being forced to choose a side and haunted by horrors they have seen. Tris Prior is ragged with grief and guilt, mourning her parents, friends, and her very faction. But Tris wants answers. Why did this happen? What was the secret her parents died for? And how can they stop this war before everything falls apart?

I am warning everyone now, there will be a lot of spoilers here. I finished this book three days ago and the more I think about this book, the more problems I have with it. Originally, if I had written this post three days ago, I would have given this book 4 stars despite the major teen-angst. However, I think my star rating may have dropped down to 2 1/2 stars.

As with most teen series these days, the second (and third) begin right where the last one left off. There is little to no recap for those of you who didn't read the book back to back. Thank goodness there is wikipedia and goodreads for those who don't remember all these different characters and factions and politics. However, if there was a character that you connected with in Divergent, do not expect to have the same connection with them in Insurgent because they all change so much.

Insurgent reminded me of Harry Potter #5, riddled with teen angst and one massive death wish. Tris goes from being a hero to a complete head case with more issues than Rolling Stone. There was a heavy focus on Tris and Four's relationship, which, as you can imagine, was grating. Why does it matter that these two love one another when their entire world is falling apart? Four shows his love for Tris over and over again and yet she fights it, ruins it, flaunts it, and then tosses it away.

And what does she toss it away for? Information. In a mind boggling twist of fate, Tris finds herself siding with Marcus, Four's abusive father, in a covert operation to find the one piece of information that forced the Erudite to mind control the entire city. Marcus, a known liar, abuser, and manipulator, somehow convinces the ever-logical Tris that she should trust him and not tell Four a thing, because for some reason Four is now completely untrustworthy, even after sacrificing himself to save her life. Then, Roth drags out the secret until the very end, and I can promise you this, it wasn't that world changing.

Here is a big issue I have had with these books. How can you possibly separate human nature into only five categories? Five? I mean, I have always had issues with Astrology and blood typing, but at least there are more categories than five. No wonder the Erudite rebelled. You stick all the smart people together in one room and I promise, they are going to eventually have a problem. For that matter, the Dauntless are a terrible faction. A group of trigger-happy, undisciplined, extreme sports fanatics who are almost worthless as far as security is concerned. What a terrible way to build a society. Especially one that isn't very old. Someone did not plan this very well at all.

I don't know what is going to happen in the final installment, but I can only hope that Tris is now over her self-deprecating  death wish and can move on into this new factionless world where she will actually have to be a hero rather than just react when bad situations are thrown her way. Please Tris, don't be another reactionary character like Katniss Everdeen. Please.

The Dark Unwinding Book Review

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

Katharine Tulman's inheritance is in jeapordy. Her Uncle Tully, long considered eccentric, is now rumored to be squandering the family's money, money that belongs to her cousin and by extension, herself. So Katharine is sent to her Uncle's home to declare him insane and secure the family fortune. What she finds instead is a genius inventor with the mind of a child who employs hundreds of employees rescued from the workhouses of London. For reasons that she cannot begin to explain, Katharine decides to wait to give her assessment and quickly finds herself surrounded by mystery and intrigue.

I slogged through this book, truly hoping that the things I guessed from the very beginning would be different. In the beginning is our heroine Katharine being sent to institutionalize her Uncle, which doesn't bother her as long as she gets some money. Of course, my first questions was, why is she not elligible for marriage? She isn't illegitimate and even without money, surely someone would marry her for her name at least? Once she arrives, she finds an Estate full of people who hate her, fair enough since she will be throwing them out of their homes soon. This is where I began to truly dislike Katharine, both for her selfishness and her characterization.

For reasons I cannot begin to explain, Katharine decides to stay for 30 days, which made the story longer, but also showcased Katharine's selfishness and made it mighty convenient for Kathatine to stumble on the mysteries surrounding her Uncle and the estate.

This book was stilted and confusing. There was one chapter where I literally thought pages were missing. Throughout most of the middle section I began to skim the story, and was rewarded with a predictable ending and a "twist" that fell flat. In the end, I felt like I trudged through a novel with a character who barely redeemed herself.

Alchemy and Meggy Swann Book Review

Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

Set in 1532, Meggy Swann has been sent for by her father. When she arrives though, she finds that she is unwanted, for he has no need of a girl, and a crippled girl at that. Despite a disability that makes it impossible for her to walk without sticks or pain, Meggy begins to make friends and help her father in his great work of transformation.

I have always been a huge fan of Karen Cushman with her strong but time-period correct females with interesting job descriptions. I was also happily surprised by Meggy's disability. Before you read that wrong, I am always excited to see author's writing stories with a special needs character because I think it is important to introduce to children of all sorts. On just this level alone, this book worked for me. Although Meggy is "crippled", the story itself is not about her disability but rather one little girl's search for love and acceptance in a world where both seem so difficult to achieve.

I did find the story to be a little slow at times, leaning heavily on the history and descriptions of London to carry it along. This is a rather small book though, and the slow parts were short, unlike another book that I just read and shall be reviewing next. Alchemy and Meggy Swann is not Cushman's best book, but I think readers will like it just the same.

Fire Book Review

Fire by Kristin Cashore

Fire is a monster. The only living human monster in the Dells. Equally hated and adored, she has the ability to control minds, but Fire knows firsthand the destruction that can be caused by her monster gifts after watching her father, a monster in more ways than one. When Prince Brigan comes to bring her to King City, she is asked to help uncover a plot against the King. Her power could save a kingdom, but Fire is afraid that to use her powers may unleash a true monster.

A companion novel to Kristin Cashore's Graceling, readers will recognize some names and places, but make no mistake, this book stands on its own. I was told by more than one reader that they couldn't figure out how this book ties into Graceling, which I found an interesting criticism, because I could definitely see what Cashore was doing and how the two storied interlinked. I found it a very interesting and unique way to introduce back story without a bunch of needless back flashes throughout Graceling.

Fire is a strong female character, but her secrets and fear make her vulnerable in a way that I found both endearing and frustrating. I know it must be difficult to live in the shadow of a father as monstrous as hers and yet, I wanted her to realize sooner that she creates her own destiny. Also, Fire's monster abilities can literally cause men to go made, some wanting to rape her while others fall in love with her. This is only heightened if she is on her monthly menstrual cycle and since the story takes place over a period of months, we are definitely given the nitty gritty on that account.

I liked the back story and the introduction of characters, but in the end I don't think I cared about what would happen to Fire only what would happen to the truly evil child who eventually becomes king of the Dells. I am not upset that I read, but I am really looking forward to the sequel Bitterblue, because it is time to find out what happens.

Picture Books in Review - January through March

As usual, a slew of picture books have been rolling in and as usual, I am ho hum about a large majority of them for various reasons, most being that this picture books are start to seem similar with different illustrators conveying their version with various anthropomorphic animals. So here are a few that piques my interest recently, and perhaps they will grab yours. 

The Beatles Were Fab (and They Were Funny) 
by Kathleene Krull, Paul Brewer, and Stacy Innerst

A child's introduction to the Beatles if you will. For the older, or at least more attentive reader, full of great facts and fun pictures.

Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino

So I have a soft spot for robots in kids books. It is probably the sci-fi nerd in me. But this is an adorable book and I can't help but think of some fun crafts that would go along with this one at a storytime.

All Through My Town by Jean Riedey and Leo Timmers

A potpourri of images and quick rhymes make this book a snap to read through and a joy to read again. Never mind that there is a twist ending, twist as a picture book can get.

Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore and Nancy Carpenter

Based on a true story, this is a tale that may have never happened without the help of many good Samaritans. Reminiscent of Make Way for Ducklings, this is a duck tale for the 21st century child.

King of Space by Jonny Duddle

A bit long for a picture book, this is for the older reader, the ones who love the long stories and there is plenty to entertain the eye while a parent reads. 

The Museum by Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds

It's Peter H. Reynolds...does it really need an introduction?

Open Very Carefully: A Book With a Bite by Nick Bromley and Nicola O'Byrne

For the adventurous reader, beware. I can totally see my nephew enjoying this one.

RoboMop by Sean Taylor and Edel Rodriguez

So far, my favorite book this year. I absolute love this little Robomop, doomed to clean a bathroom in a basement. But he never loses heart and keeps dreaming and I thought it was fantastic!

The Yellow Tutu by Kirsten Bramsen and Carin Bramsen

Who says tutu's have to be worn around your waist? Why not on your head so you can look like a giant flower? And would you keep wearing it like that if someone made fun of you?

Code Name Verity Book Review

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Julie, code name Verity, has two weeks to live. Two weeks to tell the Germans everything she knows, codes, names, places. In exchange they promise her a swift execution. And so, with painstaking honesty, Julie divulges her secrets.

Code Name Verity was absolutely brilliant. Throughout the first half of the book, I had a difficult time liking Julie. She is selfish, a traitor in the deepest sense of the word, willing to share all in an effort to not be tortured any more. She drags out her story day by day, knowing that with each sentence she is only delaying the inevitable. How is a reader supposed to relate or like a character like this? One that, by her own admission, is going to die in the end?

Then comes the second half, told from the perspective of Maddie, Julie's best friend, and everything changes. Everything. Your opinions of Julie, what she has said and done will be altered for the good. It is difficult to write this review without creating any spoilers and so I will leave it at this: This book was one of the best historical fiction novels I have read in a long time. I would not hesitate to recommend it to teens and adults with the full knowledge that they will be reading a truly wonderful book that deserves to be read more than once.

Homesick Book Review

Homesick by Kate Klise

Benny's mother has had enough. After another fight regarding the ever mysterious splinter that is rumored to be a part of "the" cross, she leaves Benny and his father to themselves. Benny's dad has always been a bit of a pack-rat, but now, he is hoarding everything from pizza boxes to old motorcycle parts. As the house begins to fill up, Benny begins to try to convince his dad to get rid of that splinter, because if the splinter is gone surely his mother will return. Meanwhile, a local teach enters their little town into America's Most Charming Small Town contest and the pressure is on to clean up the town and number one on the agenda is Benny's house.

Authentic and poignant, this is a tale about one kid who is forced to become the grown up after his mother leaves and his father's mental health begins to deteriorate. After watching shows like Hoarders, I think we have all become familiar with what it means to be a hoarder, but this story really brings to light  how terrifying and overwhelming it is to be on the inside of those houses.

The end felt a little too happily ever after for my taste, but I think it is important when kids are going through situations like this to know that things can end well, that they are not bound into living the way their parents have chosen to live. This may be especially important when dealing with mental health issues.

Reminiscent of Out of My Mind and Dead End in Norvelt, I think this may be one that a lot of teachers and librarians may want to consider for elementary school readers. Oh and did I mention...there is a tornado?

When Life Gives You O.J. Book Review

When Life Gives You O.J. by Erica S. Perl

There is only one thing 10-year-old Zelly Fried wants more than anything and that is a dog. Zelly is sure a dog will help her fit in with her new neighbors in Vermont, but her parents don't think she is ready yet. This is when Zelly's grandfather, Ace, hatches a preposterous plan in which Zelly will have a "practice dog", made from an old orange juice jug. She must feed it, walk it, and let it do its business. The only problem is how does someone fit in when they are walking around with an old jug?

When Life Gives You O.J. is really one of your atypical middle grade books. New girl in a new town trying to fit in with an eccentric family member whom the child really doesn't understand until something tragic happens. If this is all there had been in the story I may have just been ho hum about this book, but Perl added some flavor, like adding some salt and pepper onto an otherwise bland food and suddenly, it is good. Maybe not the best thing you have ever eaten, but good.

The flavor of this story is the cultural context, with Zelly's family being Jewish. The addition of various Yiddish words and phrases, stories and traditions peppered throughout gave life to a story that could have been bland into something charming. I also think there are a number of themes that young girls will be able to relate to. There were a few moments where I even found myself flashbacking to my own childhood with horrible sleepovers and rocky friendships.

I know this review doesn't make the book sound wonderful, but I really think that girls between 8-11 are really going to enjoy this one and may learn a few Yiddish words in the process.

Divergent Book Review

Divergent by Veronia Roth

Beatrice Prior lives in a world split into five factions, each one dedicated to upholding and cultivating a particular virtue. The honest Candor, selfless Abnegation, brave Dauntless, peaceful Amity, and intelligent Erudite have been living together in virtual harmony for as long as anyone can remember. Beatrice, who has grown up in Abnegation is thrown for a loop when her test results show that she is Divergent, a term that is so secret that not even she is supposed to know what this means. Despite her fierce love for her family, when the time comes for her to choose which faction she belongs in, Beatrice chooses the brave Dauntless. But not all is at it seems, and Tris (formerly Beatrice) must learn that true bravery requires the use of all the factions, especially if she is going to survive.

My co-workers have been buzzing about this book for quite a while. The books are sold by the truckload. I wasn't resisting reading it, but despite the buzz, no one was actually buzzing about what the book was about, just that Hunger Games fans would love it. This is both a plus and a minus for me. One the one hand, I enjoyed the first book of Hunger Games and really do love dystopian sci-fi. Check out my fan-girl rants about The Maze Runner if you have any question about that. On the other hand, Hunger Games has become the 'it' thing, and every writer is trying to do it with varying levels of success. Because of this I both excited and wary of books that are touted as a you-will-love-this-book-because-you-loved-that-book.

I liked Divergent. Didn't love, but I liked it. The pacing and plot were quick and interesting. Tris is an understandably conflicted character who I expect is going to have some real psychological damage in the  sequel. The love story wasn't too heavy handed although I always find it curious when characters fall for each other without knowing a thing about the other person. I wonder what will hold their relationship together once they get past the difficult times and just have to live? It is possible that I consider these things more now that I am married, but it is no secret that I am highly suspicious of the romance elements in any book.

My favorite part about this book is that it kept me guessing. I didn't know what was going to happen or how the story would unfold. For someone who reads as much as I do, this is rather important because I get bored when I can guess exactly what will happen in a story. (Currently trying to finish The Dark Unwinding and I think it is terrible because I know exactly how things are going to turn out.) It was nice to have characters who were truly tough and unlike Hunger Games had chosen to be part of a group in which they were expected to be. The conflict with the characters was in the competition, but the competition, even when life in death, made the Tris and her friends seem more human. It also made their tormentors more human as well.