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“Divergent” by Veronica Roth: a book review

So, where faction are you? The Honest, Selfless, Brave, Intelligent, or Peaceful?

Though not all the world’s virtues are represented here, these are the factions that a futuristic Chicago is divided into, making the society in DIVERGENT”  ripe for discussion: which faction is more important? Or is it more important to find a balance of them all within ourselves? And do people fit into just one or a few? Can we be made to conform? Should we?

Choices, choices, choices.

However you feel about that set up, rest assured the book is great, which is better than “good” but not “excellent.” People will either like this or love it, I wager. Is it better writing than the Hunger Games Trilogy? Yes. Is the overall story better and more addicting? That’s arguable; and honestly remains to be seen. With the sequel, Insurgent, coming out in just weeks, May 2012, the jury is still out.

It might be unfair to compare every book I’ve been doing lately to Hunger Games, but it is: (a) the book everybody knows about right now; and (b) is a dystopian-adventure, coming-of-age told in first-person present tense. This is the hot genre right now, and luckily for me, I like it. Full of parallels between the fictional world and our world, young adults from 14-21 can learn about oligarchies, dystopias, checks-and-balances, social issues, sympathy, empathy, bravery, and more. Plus, these kinds of high-energy books have really connected with tens of thousands of teenage readers over the past few years — we’ll say since about 2006.

Expect a lot of these to be made into films between 2013 and 2020, including “Matched” and “Blood Red Road”, maybe even “The Forest of Hand and Teeth.”

A lot of first time and second time authors are getting some big breaks into the industry by being at the right place at the right time, and I can honestly say that they are not just riding on coattails completely. (Of course, a bit.) But they are all bringing something slightly different to the table (if you ignore the usual romance sub-plots and the unconfident female protagonists who blossom into confidence). Some things are just “staples” of the genre. Tried and true.

But rest assured, Divergent, the first novel by Veronica Roth, has as much or more death, groping, kissing, and definitely brings more socio-political ethical questions than the Hunger Games. Less survival, more brain. Equal in violence, but somehow more raw.

The writer and editor here are clearly a better team than Collins and her editor, and I’m optimistic that Roth’s trilogy will do what the Collins’ trilogy could not: deliver on big ideas about family, love, and virtues, show some real love and not be so virginal/chaste/asexual, and more deeply consider the politics of society. Plus, Roth’s work flows better and delivers more fluent action paragraphs. Honestly, I give Collins’ trilogy a 7/10. Divergent is on course to be an 8.

Criticism for Divergent: the book could have been fifty pages thinner, chopping every other sentence out of the middle 100 pages. But beyond that, it’s believable; except for a choppy, sudden stumble into the third act, because, well, it’s time to get to that part of the story…. I guess…. Right? But the last 50 pages makes up for any minor grief. Great, deafening, realistic, heart-breaking, hopeful ending.

Lose some, gain, some, move on. This is just the beginning of something HUGE.

Unlike the one-dimensional hierarchal vagaries shabbily explored in the Hunger Games, the Divergent Series is likely to touch on something more than just being weary about those in power, but how we should be living our lives — period. Through a war of virtues and finding where we belong and what is the best way for a government to represent the whole, Divergent could almost stand as a precursor to the Hunger Games series, showing what happened during the war 75 years ago when the “factions/districts” rebelled.

If any of this interests you, this is a book worth reading. It might very well be the next big series. Also, look out for The Maze Runner and Legend – two other dystopian Young Adult novels by first time authors that are supposed to kick major ass if you like fast-paced, me-against-the-world, danger books.

At 480 pages, I killed Divergent in three days. It’s a good book to talk to friends about, especially if you think this kind of government could ever work. Why or why not? Read with a friend!!!

Rating: 4/5

MH

p.s. an interesting reviewer youtube v-log “the readables” is silghtly more critical here, but well supported — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWa0KPgMgEQ&feature=relmfu

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“Blood Red Road” by Moira Young: a book review

Three or four of the past book reviews have been “Young Adult Fiction” books, and I feel that definition comes with an unfair stigma at times. Like they are lesser books.  I’m not the first to look at it this way, but I feel some people look down on fiction geared toward teens. The truth is a lot of these books are better paced and more visual than many “Adult” books I’ve read and it’s a shame that even some teenagers think that once they’re seventeen or eighteen that the world of “YA” is now for babies and they’re going to focus on “more mature, serious” readings.

Bullshit. “YA” can kicks ass.

Enter “Blood Red Road.” Published in June of 2011, it’s easily the best new YA novel from last year in my opinion. It is book #1 of Moira Young’s “Dustlands” series.

This book takes chances that many contemporary novelists, “Young Adult” or otherwise, would not risk, and I’m mainly talking about the use of slang. Think Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” and you’ll get the gist. What’s more, the author really rolled the dice by making it extraordinarily sparse of punctuation. Think Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men” or “The Road.” No parentheses and no quotations for spoken dialogue!—only some commas, dashes and periods.

Now, I know what you may be thinking: “That’s gimmicky.” You’re wrong. In this case, it enhances the story, which should always be the crucial consideration when doing things unconventionally. You may also be thinking: “How would you know who is speaking, and doesn’t the slang make it a tough read?” Absolutely not. Somehow, the way that this book was written is clear, flowing, and engaging. Somehow the lack of quotations and the heavy slang and phoentic spelling of words stops being an issue after a few pages in. Some may disagree and find the style far too distracting for them. Their loss.

But if you’re a fairly seasoned reader or are over fifteen, “Blood Red Road” is a literary gem, complete with an original adventure story, full of heart ache, sub-plots, quests, and revenge. The scenery and locations are also well described, and take the reader through the desert, the rivers, the forest, the grasslands, the mountains, etc.—all the big fantasy backdrops you’d expect.

And Saba? Think “Gladiator” meets Katniss Everdeen meets Natalie Portman in “V for Vendetta.” Yeah. I know, right? “Blood Read Road” made me say: ‘Katniss who? What are the Hunger Games?’

BLR’s teenage female protagonist wipes the floor with the personal dramas of Katniss and company. Saba in BLR is memorable and loveable; and her love interest, Jack, is honestly the best charismatic, smoky, arrogant love interest I’ve read ever in YA. Seriously, as far as writing style goes and capturing another world, Young and Collins are neck-and-neck. All motivations and dialogue is believable.

Did I mention this is Moira Young’s first book? Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either. No first book should read so well. I cannot wait to see what else she delivers (this is the beginning of a series).

I really think “Blood Red Road” is a testament that Young Adult fiction can matter, can be powerful, and can be artistically important. This is the fat 450-some page YA novel that kept some YA conventions intact, but also turned a lot on their heads.

I love this book, will recommend it to anybody who likes futuristic, dystopian, fantasy-adventures and I will eagerly be anticipating the film in the next few years which is rumored to be helmed by the great Ridley Scott. Book #2 of the “Dustlands” series — Rebel Heart — is due out around Halloween 2012. (Per Usual, there are different covers for the UK and the US, plus different hardback and paperback, so don’t judge the books by their covers. No pun intended. I just wish the publishers had made it clear that “Dustlands” was the title or even the subtitle for “Blood Red Road”, because it’s just confusing now.)

Click the links to browse the titles on GOODREADS.COM — a site I recently fell in love with. The Facebook of passionate readers.

Just trust me: start reading this thing like I did, knowing little or nothing about it. By page 41, the end of the first part, I was spellbound. Satisfying and book club worthy, get a friend to read “Blood Red Road” with you so you can gush.

4.25/5

MH

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“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs: a novel review

This “young adult” oriented fairy tale is beautifully written and can be read by any aged reader. Don’t let the cover fool you: it’s not a horror and it’s not terrifying or sick and twisted. A relatively clean “PG-13” style fantasy and adventure, it is centered on a 16-year-old boy but both males and females will probably enjoy it. Fans of Harry Potter and X-Men will take pleasure in this coming-of-age mystery, unfolding into a bit of the supernatural (including some time travel).

The inclusion of eerie, vintage photos added a surreal atmosphere to the book. Some may find this gimmicky, but I found it original and refreshing. You can’t please everyone.  Also, the “Mystery” portion of Jakob’s adventure as he tries to put the puzzle pieces left by his grandfather really worked well. There was a great sense of strangeness, and the tension built up fairly steadily.

The author Ransom Riggs has a gift and definitely can write a great fairy tale. He writes very descriptively, adds depth to his environments, and builds three dimensional characters. I love his sentences—often poetically quotable passages that the bookworm in you want to share with someone! “Listen to this! Great, huh?”

Critically, I can say that some information comes a little late in the story: for example—and I’m not spoiling anything here—the big reveal where Miss Peregrine discusses just what the heck happened on the island and what those creatures are that want them dead. It all comes about 50 pages too late for me.

The most beautifully written sections can be found in the romantically haunting descriptions of Miss Peregrine’s House in Chapter Five near the beginning. This was the chapter that hooked me.

Until the end, it’s not a very action packed tale—there are not many obstacles for Jakob to overcome, other than random snooping and intellectual conversations. However, the plot devices all set-up and pay off well, where many little things included early on (for little or no reason) come around in neat and surprisingly satisfying ways.

The biggest issue with the book is there are only ten chapters in this densely margined 340+ page book, making some of the chapters over 70 pages! I was begging for a good place to take a breath, no matter how good the plot. Some sections drag, there’s no way around it, but they are few in number in my opinion. The remedy is simple: break up the chapters in logical places—which exist—so the book is a cozy but still dense 15-20 chapters.

Near the end, as a “stand alone” piece, I think I would give it 3.5 Stars. I didn’t like that some characters were being developed so late which we were all of the sudden supposed to care about. But with 75 pages to go in the book, I realized this was not going to be a solitary book, but the first installment of some series. My frustrations were mildly alleviated. Because this is the first part of what could be an amazingly original trilogy over the next few years and whose sequels could outshine the original “Miss Peregrine’s”, I’ve given it a higher star rating for personal anticipation and excitement.

There is enough here to make the next book better, without question.

This is not a “Must Read”, but after you finish those two other books you’ve been meaning to read, this is a great first attempt at a novel by Ransom Riggs.

4/5

(p.s. the first thing I thought when I was half-way done this book was “Time Burton could do this.” Well, he is. Watch out on the blogosphere and imdb.com for more info.)

MH

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