Review–Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

September 28, 2011 § 5 Comments

First of all, I want to thank Annette at http://annettesbookspot.blogspot.com/ for recommending this to me.

Never Let Me Go was an odd sort of dystopian themed novel, so subtle yet so emotionally intense. The story at first glance seemed like a pointlessly slow meandering through the main character, Kathy’s, childhood memories, but then there was also this almost malignant undercurrent of hinted at secrets and mysterious clues that alluded to something sinister that the guardians were hiding. It was downright eerie but oh so compelling. The end left me feeling thoughtful and thoroughly creeped out. I am always so fascinated by books that explore the darker aspects of human nature and this book is certainly one that exposes that. What is so brilliant about Never Let Me Go is that that “darkness” is only ever openly acknowledged and discussed at length close to the end, but it nonetheless casts a shadow over the entire tale. Throughout, there’s always this air of sadness and resignation. 

Kathy grew up in a school surrounded by other “special” students where their guardians emphasized the importance of art and poetry and where sex was treated like such a matter of fact topic that the students felt encouraged to experiment with it. The odd thing about this school is that there is never any mention of parents and some of the guardians hint at a specific reason why these students considered special. It was understood within the story that Kathy and her friends were basically somewhat aware of why they were special and what they were born to accomplish, but it is never really talked about openly, merely alluded to, which just builds tension for the reader as they wait to discover if what they have pieced together is right and if so, why? The students had apparently been given general information about their future duties but none of this was explained to the reader until the very end. It’s such a subtle and compelling style of writing, I found myself feeling equally intrigued and frustrated by all of my unanswered questions.

Much of this story felt like I was piecing together bits and pieces of information to get to the truth. The main character, Kathy, narrated the story and she would often stray from whatever topic she started off talking about only to abruptly return to the original idea, like she got lost in thought and had to remind herself what she had been talking about. The book seemed to aimlessly wander from past to present as Kathy examined her memories of school and what came later. . The unusual flow of the writing worked for me though. I didn’t find it hard to follow at all, instead I found that it was a clever way to allow the reader to emotionally connect with the characters and view the world through their eyes. I also thought that the subtle writing style was so effective at creating this mysterious and haunting atmosphere wrapped within what seemed like an almost ordinary tale.

The main characters were fascinating and infinitely relatable. Kathy was pragmatic and compassionate but also had a weakness of character that caused her to allow herself to be almost bullied and walked over by her domineering best friend Ruth. There were several times when she showed some backbone but even then, she often was the first to back down and apologize. Ruth was a variation of “mean girl”, overbearing and deceitful, but with an added layer of depth that it is hard to pinpoint. I often found myself feeling sorry for her, even when she didn’t seem to deserve it. Tommy, Kathy’s friend and love interest was also a mix of contradictions. He was at times pathetic and at other times extremely perceptive and intuitive. I found the characters to be authentic and I was oddly drawn to them, listening to their story to piece together the bits and pieces that explained who they were. It was also so incredibly complex how these characters seemed to complacently accept their lot on the surface, but would at the same time look for ways to find meaning to their existence.

I can’t express how much I loved that the author told this story using Kathy’s voice and her rather pragmatic view of her world and which showcased this matter of fact acceptance of her place in this bleak reality. It was such a contrast to how repulsed I was by the horror of the situation that was alluded to and only much later explained. I wanted her to rage and scream and fight back but the only hint of rebellion was the sad attempt to put off the inevitable. There was such an emotional depth to the story, both in the characters interactions with one another and in the ways they came to grips what their purpose was. It left me pondering the implications long after I turned the final page.

The ending felt abrupt and was a bit of an info-dump, although it was simply a confirmation of what I was able to piece together. I was able to discover if my suspicions were correct and was given a little bit of an explanation about why these things were happening. All of the explanations, however, were still rather vague and incomplete, the story ended without me ever feeling like I really had a grasp of the situation. Oddly, I still felt like I was satisfied with the ending as it was. It kind of made sense that if Kathy were telling this story, she would focus on those details and memories that were so important to her instead of answering the questions that I had. As I said, it was an unusual book. I liked it and will probably read it again sometime to hopefully understand a little more.

Rating – 4

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Review: When She Woke by Hillary Jordan

September 27, 2011 § 4 Comments

 

When She Woke is a dystopian themed adult fiction inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. And like Hawthorne’s book, the main character, Hannah Payne, is publicly condemned and ostracized for her perceived crime and forced to wear scarlet as a badge of shame, yet refuses to name the man who responsible for her pregnancy. When She Woke also explores similar themes of religion, adultery, and criminality as did The Scarlet Letter.

After being convicted of murdering her unborn child, Hannah goes through a process called melachroming which entails a convicted criminal having their skin color altered to announce the type of crime they committed. She wakes to find herself in a solitary room with only a shower, sleeping platform, and a camera in the wall that will, for  her first thirty days as a “Chrome,” monitor and  broadcast her every move to the entire world.

The dystopian society was one of extreme religious conservatism and the one aspect of this that almost didn’t fit for me was that in such an almost Puritanical society, would they really rely so heavily on technology? Otherwise, imagining a society built on the tenets of  extreme fundamentalistic Christian beliefs was downright frightening. Hannah was forced to contend with her guilt over making choices that not only went against every principal she had been taught to believe in her strict evangelical upbringing, but also put her in the untenable position of losing her friends, family, reputation, and possibly her own life. She struggled to reconcile her actions with her religious beliefs and wondered if she would ever feel a connection to God again.

I found When She Woke to be extremely thought provoking. The idea of melachroming intrigued me. There is some part of me that is not fully convinced that this is such a bad idea as it would effectively punish the criminal through public humiliation yet save the state the expense of housing all but the most violent offenders.  In the book, there was a lower life expectancy for some crimes or “colors” such as Red (murderers) and Greens (Child Molesters) while those convicted of less serious crimes (Yellows) were less feared and hated but still ostracized. Right or wrong, it was certainly a fascinating concept to consider.

With all of the heavy and thought provoking themes in When She Woke, it still managed to be an exciting and engaging read. I devoured this book in just one day, unable to put it down. I knew before the first hundred pages that I wouldn’t be getting any sleep that night until I finished it. It sinks its hooks in early and never lets go as it takes you on an action packed and emotionally stirring journey. When She Woke takes a fairly clear stance on the topic of abortion, however, I don’t believe it was presented in such a biased way that those who differ in their beliefs would be unable to enjoy it.  When She Woke presents the story from a clearly feminist perspective and this may be off-putting for some but I found it to be an inspiring story about the struggle from oppression to empowerment. This will definitely be shelved with my all time favorites. I would recommend this to fans of dystopian themed fiction, those who enjoyed the Handmaids Tale or The Scarlet Letter, and those who enjoy fiction that focuses on socially relevant issues.

Rating: 5

StarStarStarStarStar

 




Review: Horns by Joe Hill

September 24, 2011 § 5 Comments

Goodreads Synopsis

Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with a pair of horns growing from his temples.

At first, Ig thought the horns were a hallucination, the product of a mind damaged by rage and grief. He had spent the last year in a lonely, private purgatory, following the death of his beloved, Merrin Williams, who had been raped and murdered under inexplicable circumstances. A mental breakdown would have been the most natural thing in the world. But there was nothing natural about the horns, which were all too real.

Once, the righteous Ig had enjoyed the life of the blessed. But Merrin’s death damned all that. The only suspect in the crime, Ig was never charged or tried. And he was never cleared. Nothing Ig can do or say matters. Everyone it seems, including God, has abandoned him. Everyone that is, but the devil inside. . . .

Now Ig is possessed of a terrible new power—a macabre talent he intends to use to find the monster who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. It’s time for a little revenge . . . it’s time the devil had his due . . .

My thoughts:

I bought Horns after reading a wonderful review by Chris Farnell at http://floor-to-ceiling-books.blogspot.com  Thanks Chris!

Containing one of the most original and intriguing premises I’ve ever read, Horns is a highly unusual book that explores the grey areas of good and evil using a mix of dark humor, the supernatural, and stark reality. It examines the ugly underbelly of human nature and forces us to consider our own personal demons. Horns was almost sinfully enjoyable and and a delightful guilty pleasure to read.

After a night of drunken debauchery, Ignatius Perrish wakes up to find that he has grown horns on his head. You would think that this would be fairly alarming for the people that see him, but one of the unusual powers these horns seem to possess is that of being overlooked or quickly forgotten by people. The more disturbing effect of these horns is that people who are within their range have the uncontrollable urge to confess their deepest darkest thoughts and wishes to Ignatius. This can be particularly problematic for Ignatius since most of these people believe he murdered his popular girlfriend and they generally do not think very nice thoughts about him nor do they wish him well. He explores the many facets to his newly acquired horns and discovers he can use them to not only find out what people really think, but also make suggestions that they are likely to act upon. Too bad about that free will thing, he can’t seem to force people to do his bidding, only if its something they subconsciously want for themselves can he push them in any certain direction. He decides to use these powers to discover who really murdered the girlfriend who he loved more than anything. But what will he do when he finds the answers?

Most of the characters are highly unlikable but the story itself is compelling. The one thing that detracted from the book was the uneven pacing. While some of the book was edge of your seat exciting, other chapters crawled along at a snails pace. There were many  times when I wondered where the author was going with the story as it seemed he was going off into areas that had nothing to do with the plot, but all the pieces fell into place by the end. With a writing style and creative subject matter that is reminiscent of his famous father as well as authors like Clive Barker, Joe Hill is definitely an author to watch out for. With his macabre sense of humor and perceptive notions of the darker aspects of the human personality, I’m sure there will be more darkly delightful books from this author.

Rating – 3

DevilDevilDevil

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop

September 23, 2011 § 13 Comments

banned

Welcome to my stop on the Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop! This hop is hosted by I Am a Reader, Not a Writer, and Jen from I Read Banned Books! This hop is inspired by the ALA’s Banned Books Week that runs from September 24th to October 1st


After reading so many dystopian themed books recently, I have no trouble imagining the danger involved with allowing any group to control what we read. An attempt to control what a society reads is an attempt to control how a society thinks. I fully support the First Amendment and feel that censorship has no place in my country, state, city, library, or schools, and certainly not on my bookshelves. It makes me furious that some of the most challenged books are those that would provide our children with different perspectives on issues that are a well established fact of life, such as racism, homosexuality, and religion. I think that by allowing children to explore these issues, there is a strong likelihood that they may grow up without some of the same biases that cripple so many of us. While I understand the need to monitor what is appropriate for my child’s age, I do not feel the need to control my child’s personal beliefs and am happy to tell him what I believe but allow him the freedom to learn, grow, and discover his own opinions.

Furthermore, some of the most often challenged books are those that speak about very sensitive subject matter, such as sexual issues, rape, cutting, eating disorders, and suicide. These are so important to have available to our kids. I can’t even understand why someone would want to ban these type of books that have the potential to save lives. I have read so many accounts of these books having such a huge impact on the lives of teens and tweens. Why would we want to take that lifeline away from our kids simply because the subject matter may make some of us uncomfortable. Censorship is not an acceptable alternative to parenting. We should talk to our kids, monitor what they read, listen to, watch, etc. I don’t need any book burning/banning to help me be a mom.

Whatever your opinion may be about banning books, I fully support your right to have that opinion and even to write about it. That’s the beauty of the First Amendment.

Here is a list of the most challenged books of 2011

1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Reasons: “Homosexuality, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group”



2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Offensive language, Racism, Sex Education, Sexually Explicit, Unsuited to Age Group, Violence



3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: Insensitivity, Offensive Language, Racism, Sexually Explicit



4. Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Reasons: Drugs, Offensive Language, Sexually Explicit



5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: “Sexually Explicit, Unsuited to Age Group, Violence”



6. Lush by Natasha Friend
Reasons: “Drugs, Offensive Language, Sexually Explicit, Unsuited to Age Group”



7. What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
Reasons: “Sexism, Sexually Explicit, Unsuited to Age Group”



8. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America by Barbara Ehrenreich
Reasons: “Drugs, Inaccurate, Offensive Language, Political Viewpoint, Religious Viewpoint



9. Revolutionary Voices edited by Amy Sonnie
Reasons: “Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit”



10. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: “Religious Viewpoint, Violence

Giveaway
One winner will receive up to $20 in books from the Book Depository. Book choices are limited to those on the banned and challenged list above and the much longer list here: http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengedbydecade/2000_2009/index.cfm

Giveaway open to anywhere that the Book Depository ships to, it is your responsibility to make sure that the Book Depository ships to your country. Being a follower is not required to enter.

Be sure to visit all of the other wonderful giveaways celebrating Banned Books Week!

Review: Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

September 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

 

Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn’t help it – Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn’t fit anywhere else.
And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it’s never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack’s heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it’s up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she’s read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn’t the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel.
Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.

 

My thoughts:

Breadcrumbs is a charming and enchanting new novel by Anne Ursu. Billed as Middle Grade fiction, the lyrical writing and interesting mix of fantasy and reality will appeal to Young Adult and Adult readers alike.

Breadcrumbs is an emotional journey that follows Hazel as she navigates a dangerously magical forest on her quest to reach the Snow Queen’s lair and rescue her best friend Jack. One of the many things I enjoyed about Breadcrumbs is that it evoked such nostalgic memories of my own childhood. There is an almost natural separation that happens in boy/girl friendships at a certain age and Ursu highlights this with such poignancy that it is beautiful to read.

Hazel shone as the main character and her courage, loyalty, and fortitude were inspiring. I loved her whimsical nature, her willingness to trust her intuition as she faced some terrifying challenges and persevered through seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The way her character evolved throughout the story was wonderful. The quest that Hazel undertook was as much about self discovery as it was about the strength of friendship and Hazel learned something valuable with each step of the journey.

Within the story, there were nods to many other popular children’s tales such as Harry Potter and Narnia and of course, the Snow Queen which inspired this novel. These mentions made sense in the context of the story and I don’t feel that they were overused at all.

This was an emotional and whimsical modern fairy tale with overtones of melancholy and nostalgia. This is one of those reads that stays with you long after turning the last page, a modern day classic. I would recommend this to readers of all ages and would go so far as to say that you will be missing out if you don’t have a copy of this on your shelf. . 

Rating – 4

StarStarStarStar

Blogger Labels: Read in 2011,2011 Release,Anne Ursu,Middle Grade,Review,Breadcrumbs,fiction,fantasy,Young Adult,self discovery,friendship,children,Narnia,fairy tale,nostalgia

Waiting on Wednesday and a Giveaway!!

September 21, 2011 § 31 Comments

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

 

Conveniently timed for a Waiting on Wednesday post, Stacia Kane just released the cover for her fourth installment in the Downside series titled Sacrificial Magic. Isn’t it fabulous?!?!

 

Back Cover Blurb:

READING, WRITING, AND RAISING THE DEAD

When Chess Putnam is ordered by an infamous crime boss—who also happens to be her drug dealer—to use her powers as a witch to solve a grisly murder involving dark magic, she knows she must rise to the challenge. Adding to the intensity: Chess’s boyfriend, Terrible, doesn’t trust her, and Lex, the son of a rival crime lord, is trying to reignite the sparks between him and Chess.

Plus there’s the little matter of Chess’s real job as a ghost hunter for the Church of Real Truth, investigating reports of a haunting at a school in the heart of Downside. Someone seems to be taking a crash course in summoning the dead—and if Chess doesn’t watch her back, she may soon be joining their ranks.

As Chess is drawn into a shadowy world of twisted secrets and dark violence, it soon becomes clear that she’s not going to emerge from its depths without making the ultimate sacrifice.

 

If you haven’t already read the first three in this series, this is the best time to do so since you can pre-order Sacrificial Magic at Amazon as part of the 4 for 3 promotion! This gritty Urban Fantasy series about a drug addicted ghost hunting witch in an almost dystopian society is one of my all time favorites and I am dying to read this fourth book in the series! I was going to do a  giveaway for a pre-order of this, but I think instead I’m going to give away any one of the three books in this series. The winner can choose which book they want, including the pre-oder of Sacrificial Magic. Enter your information in the Rafflecopter below to win.

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Top Ten Books Everyone Has Read….Except Me!

September 20, 2011 § 4 Comments

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.


 

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)1. The Hunger Games: I have absolutely no justification for not having already read this series, especially considering how much I enjoy dystopian themed fiction. I can say that I finally broke down and bought the first book yesterday in both Hardcover and Audio format and plan to begin it as soon as I can find some time.

2. Mortal Instruments: I don’t know what it is about the first book in this series, but I have attempted to read it several times, each time I get no further than midway before I lose interest and put it down in favor of something else. I finally threw in the towel on this series and gave away the books to a friend who had also been wanting to read these. She loved them!

3. Vampire Academy: I actually have a couple of books in this series sitting on my shelf, including the amazing graphic novel. I absolutely intend to eventually buy, borrow, or win the all of the books in this series and take the time to read them. I had been in a kind of “anti-vampire” reading mood for a while now, with the exception of Cat and Bones from the Night Huntress series. But I do intend to read these!I am Number Four (Lorien Legacies, #1)

4. The Passage: I won this book in 2010 and since then it has been sitting on my shelf unopened. I really do WANT to read this, and I’m not intimidated by the length of the book, that’s actually a positive. I think that my hesitation is due to the conflict between my love of the post-apocalyptic theme and my anti-vampire book reading sentiments. I do plan to read this at some point.

5. I am Number Four: I had initially decided not to read this series both because of the sci-fi feel to it and because of the history with this particular author. The whole Oprah/Million Little Pieces fiasco was kind of a turn-off to me when considering picking up another book by this author. However, I have since reconsidered this decision based on the reviews and based on the fact that the movie was just awesome. Plus my 10 year old son wants to read these books which means I have to read them first to determine if they are appropriate.

6. Hush Hush: I haven’t cared much for any of the angel books I have previously read and based on the mixed reviews that this series received, I decided to be one of the few people that doesn’t read these.

7. HThe Night Circusalo: Same as above

8. Fallen: I almost decided to read this one simply because of the Savannah, GA setting but changed my mind after reading the comments of several reviewers who share common tastes with me.

9.Nightshade: The cover is stunning, the reviews are glowing, but the fact is, werewolves/shifters are just not my thing.

10. The Night Circus: I didn’t manage to snag an early review copy of this BUT I did manage to win an ARC copy and just got it in the mail last week! It is calling to me from my bookshelf as I write this. I WILL have this book read by the end of the month.

 

 

 

 

 




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