[REVIEW] The Selection – Kiera Cass

imagesSummary
Characters – 2/5
Plot – 2/5
Style – 3/5
World Building – 2/5
Overall – 2/5

Quote
“I hope you find someone you can’t live without. I really do. And I hope you never have to know what it’s like to have to try and live without them.”

Review
Prince Maxon has finally come of age and all eligible young women across the kingdom have been invited to take part in The Selection. The entire process is televised throughout Illéa, showing the 35 lucky girls as they are whisked away from their families to live in luxury and compete for the hand of the prince.

America didn’t think she stood a chance when her letter arrived, having to be pushed by her mother and boyfriend, Aspen, to take the chance for a better life. When her name is called as one of the chosen few, America’s life changes forever. Automatically bumped up the caste system whether she wins or loses, America can never return to her normal life again. Fiercely loyal to her family but heartbroken by Aspen’s recent betrayal, America plans to stay in the palace for as long as possible just to escape reality – Prince Maxon doesn’t even factor into her ideas.

While I ultimately enjoyed THE SELECTION as an easy break from more taxing reads, I took great exception to the simpering nature of the main character, America. She spends the vast majority of the book fawning over her first (and secret) love, Aspen, while simultaneously falling for the bland Prince Maxon. Love triangles and relationship drama are no new phenomenon in YA, but it’s the positively pathetic and generic way America handles herself that frustrated me most of all. She has all the makings of a perfectly acceptable (if not boring) heroine, but her one dimensional thoughts just perpetuate the outdated stereotype of women swanning around in pretty dresses and weeping over men.

THE SELECTION comes complete with a tiered caste system, vague mentions of poverty, rebellion and a general resentment of the upper factions to create a generally predictable world. There is even a somewhat embarrassing attempt at exposition, with a whole history class on the Chinese invasion of the US. Then the Russian invasion of the US. Then the US becoming a monarchy. Sigh.

It’s a perfect example of the infuriating trap of the modern ‘dystopian’ trilogy. For a start, there is hardly any motivation for this book to be a dystopia. Throwing a poorly judged and terribly insipid few paragraphs on World War 3 completely undermines the reader’s intelligence. Worldbuilding like this needs to be explored sensitively and expansively; not simply comprise of a throwaway reference in order to classify as a popular genre.

Additionally, there is absolutely no need for this book to end on such a poor cliffhanger except to make it ‘fit in’ with the current market. YA publishers seem to be forgetting that, no matter how many books in a series, each novel needs a complete story arc. There is nothing even close to a complete story arc in THE SELECTION – we don’t even see the whole selection process! Is there any reason to drag this plot over three books that doesn’t boil down to money? Not that I can see.

I can appreciate why this has become so popular with the slightly younger YA readers, but it’s the kind of novel that I dislike myself for finding even somewhat entertaining. I’m growing so tired of the incessant bandwagon that is YA dystopian trilogies. Light, fluffy, mindless reads are only going to satisfy the community for so long and I can’t wait for the industry to finally move on.

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[REVIEW] Idyll – James Derry

IDYLL_Cover2cSummary
Characters – 4/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 3/5
World Building – 4/5
Overall – 4/5

Quote
“Their loss was like the sea. When judged with distance, it seemed placid, something ethereal, something that could be abided. But to dwell on their loss, to give in to close scrutiny, led to turmoil. They might start to wallow; they might drown. Fixating on their grief, drawing it close and making it the dominant geological feature of their lives, would be a very bad thing. Then again, ignoring that absence entirely could be just as bad.”

Review
A bizarre plague named The Lullaby has Mother Earth’s second chance, Idyll, in its deadly grasp, and it seems that the only guaranteed way to survive is permanent quarantine. Three years after their father left in search of answers, Walt and Sam finally decide that they’ve had enough of hiding and move on from the family ranch to track him down. Travelling through decimated cities forgotten by everyone but faceless monsters, the brothers take their chances on a journey with their infected mother to find a cure and reunite their family.

Carefully and gradually terraformed over hundreds of years, Idyll has been shaped with the best parts of Earth in mind ready for colonisation. Rid of the unnecessary technology and life-extending pharmaceuticals we have come to rely upon, Idyll has been cultivated on the basis of earning your place, proving your worth and allowing natural selection to do her work. Beginning with the humble and tender care of earthworms and insects, generation after generation of the Starboard family has been trusted to farm creatures great and small. Now experienced ranchers, it is a large responsibility that Sam and Walt must leave behind, in the hope of a better life in the capital – Marathon.

The terror of falling into an endless sleep, infecting anyone close enough to hear the endless comatose mumbling of the trigger phrase, is exceptionally psychologically haunting. Destined to waste away and doom the people you love, The Lullaby is a brilliantly crafted motivator behind the narrative and poses much more than simple mortal threats. The details of the epidemic are well thought-out and small nods to its origins and purpose are intelligently woven into the story through short interludes. The reveal is intensely satisfying with every small piece of the puzzle falling logically into place in way that makes sense while still managing to catch you by surprise.

Our narrators’ opposing personalities make their interactions tense and intriguing, as while they have the same ultimate goals, Walt and Sam must juggle their differing methods and come to terms with their changing priorities. At times, Walt and Sam can be more alike than they realise, the dual narrative giving the reader an insight into how their time in quarantine has both wrenched them apart and solidified their shared morals and values.

Miriam and Virginia are fiery characters who push the brothers beyond their comfort zone and give them something tangible to fight for. With a mother wasting away on Walt’s basic medical training and a father they can only dream of finding, Miriam and Virginia keep them focussed on the road ahead. The sisters struck me in particular as, while they are manipulative and brave, they are still vulnerable and scared. They are neither damsels in distress nor one dimensional strong female characters, they are an honest blend of the two, characters that science fiction and YA needs right now more than ever.

From scientific discussions of the primordia teeming on the planet to the soft glow of the sister moons, it is apparent that a large amount of care and attention to detail has been paid in crafting the world of IDYLL. With a bittersweet ending that plays hope against despair, IDYLL is an exciting and heart-stopping race across a tragically beautiful new planet. Exploring both the physical and psychological effects of a sleeping curse-like plague, IDYLL challenges the reader to delve deeper into the story to discover what really caused the world to fall apart.

I received IDYLL from James Derry in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

[BOOKTOUR] Show Time – Phil Harvey

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Visit the SHOW TIME tour on BookBear!

Future viewing audiences have become totally desensitised to violence and entirely dependent on sensation to escape their boring workaday lives—an addiction nurtured by the media with graphic portrayals of war and crime and with so-called reality programming. Now, TV execs in pursuit of the only things they care about—higher ratings and bigger paychecks—have created the ultimate reality show: Seven people, each bearing the scars of his or her past, are deposited on an island in the middle of Lake Superior. Given some bare necessities and the promise of $400,000 each if they can endure, the three women and four men risk death by starvation or freezing as the Great Lakes winter approaches. The island is wired for sound, and flying drones provide the video feed, so everything the contestants do and say is broadcast worldwide. Their seven-month ordeal is entirely unscripted, they can’t ask for help or they forfeit the prize, and as far as the network is concerned—the fewer survivors the better.

AMAZON
APPLE
BARNES & NOBLE


Summary
Characters – 3/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 3/5
Setting – 4/5
Overall – 3/5

Quote
“‘People have to believe they’re living on the edge of a precipice,’ Heather said. ‘Otherwise they’re just living boring, ordinary, meaningless lives. That doesn’t work. Does it?’ Jimmy and Janice did not respond. ‘So we all conspire to escape, and violence is the key. Take away the violence and you won’t have real humans anymore. You’ll have another species.’ She paused and took a breath. ‘I want to be a member on this species as it is.'”

Review
14646032I loved the core idea behind this tense and dramatic dystopia, studying the effects of desensitisation, violence and boredom through an extreme lens. SHOW TIME explores what desperation truly means and questions human nature from all angles – as participants broken enough to desert themselves on an island for money and as spectators gladly watching them die for entertainment.

The tale is suspenseful and told with a blunt and detached voice. It reads as though we are the spectators of the reality TV show, dispassionately observing the daily struggle as summer turns to winter on Peshekee Island. The days, and the temperature, count down towards the end, interspersed with glimpses of the characters’ checkered pasts and the meddling of the TV producers.

Ambrose seems to be the reluctant leader of the group, coming up with plans that he hopes will keep them alive. All seven contestants have their reasons for taking on the ultimate challenge and each one has their own ideas on how to survive. Initially driven apart by clashing personalities, eventually necessity brings the team back together. It was interesting to explore the dynamics of the group amongst such a raw and harsh backdrop. The island is a cold and wild environment; no help, no relief, they either make it on their own or they die.

Posing some horrifying questions about our own society, SHOW TIME pushes readers to think about the way reality TV, the media and violence are catering to us on a daily basis. Mollified and controlled by the escapism these shows provide, this is one dystopia that doesn’t seem so impossible after all.

I received SHOW TIME from BookBear in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

[REVIEW] Way Down Dark – JP Smythe

25202767Summary
Characters – 2/5
Plot – 3/5
Style – 3/5
World building – 2/5
Overall – 3/5

Quote
“Don’t die.”

Review
The first novel of the Australia Trilogy, WAY DOWN DARK is another addition to the ever-growing dystopian YA genre. I picked it up after seeing a lot of hype on Twitter but unfortunately was left feeling a little let down.

We follow the story of orphaned Chan aboard the good (space)ship Australia. The huge vessel embarked from a dying Earth hundreds of years before she was born, searching endlessly for a new planet to call home. Chan has learnt to keep her head down and live in her mother’s memory but when the vicious Lows decide to spread out and take her territory by force, she has to decide whether to stick by her rules or sacrifice her safety to help others.

Whilst I found WAY DOWN DARK a reasonably enjoyable read, I just couldn’t squash the feeling that I’d read it all before. Many aspects of the storyline are eye-rollingly stereotypical and it was far too easy to pigeonhole characters into their prescribed tropes. Chan is the feisty female protagonist, orphaned on the first page and thrust unwillingly into leadership. Agatha is her mentor and advisor, disapproving and disappointing but somehow she always manages to come through in the end. Rex is the one-dimensional villain hellbent on utter destruction, her inexplicable hatred for Chan burning with the fire of a thousand suns. And of course there’s the obligatory tease of a love interest.

There wasn’t much complexity in the world-building, limited by the confines of the plot. The inhabitants are unaware of the situation on Earth and which direction they’re floating in, so the social structure of Australia took precedence.

The ship is split down into factions based largely on tired archetypes; religious fanatics, violent lower class savages and genetically engineered warriors. There’s a rebellion of sorts and some exciting battles but ultimately there is a lot of climbing and hiding and gardening in between all the fun parts. And of course when shit finally hits the fan it’s down to the inexperienced, unprepared and seemingly invincible protagonist to save the day.

The style was uncomplicated and relatively easy to digest. With a no nonsense voice, Chan played her part well and I managed to finish WAY DOWN DARK in only a few sittings. Although I found the plot generally predictable, it was still an enjoyable tale that definitely became much more exciting the more I read.

I did occasionally find it difficult to imagine the layout of Australia. The ship I pictured didn’t always seem to fit with how the characters interacted with it and I found it hard to marry everything together. The backdrop is crucial to the atmosphere, especially in such a claustrophobic setting, so I often had to re-read sections to get the story straight in my mind.

The one feature I really took exception to was the few random chapters from Agatha’s viewpoint. They broke up Chan’s narrative to provide some context and background, but they felt lazy to me. I would have much preferred the information being woven into the story naturally rather than shoved in.

Overall, I thought WAY DOWN DARK was a decent read with plenty of bursts of action to keep the story moving. It might be a good introduction to a science fiction style setting for those who aren’t familiar with the genre, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up the next book in the series.

[REVIEW] Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

SummaryOnly Ever Yours
Characters – 4/5
Plot – 5/5
Style – 5/5
World building – 5/5
Overall – 5/5

Quote
“We have never had a class on how to say no to men while simultaneously never saying no to them.”

Review
ONLY EVER YOURS is a dark and disturbing commentary on society’s reckoning of the female role, set in a world far too close for comfort. Women are no longer born, they are created as a reflection of perfection, trained for their entire lives in the art of being female. Each year three times as many eves are created than boys born – these boys grow up knowing the eves’ faces, ranking their fotos regularly to determine who is the most attractive, but they will not meet until the eves are nearing the Ceremony which determines their lives forever.

Kept in solitude during the night, the eves are played ceaseless mantras to wash their thoughts: I am a good girl, I am pretty, I am always agreeable, I always do as I am told. During the day, their appearance is scrutinised, their self-control is tested and they are taught lessons of utmost importance: how to please a man, how to compare themselves to other women, how to serve their purpose.

Best friends freida and isabel are approaching the final year and the stakes are higher than ever. This is the year the Inheritants will make their final judgement and condemn the girls to life as either companion, concubine or chastity. Desperately clinging to her lifelong desire to become an honoured companion, the pressure on freida gradually mounts throughout the story to an excruciating peak. The tension is well-built and well-paced, giving the whole story a creeping sense of unease that stayed with me long after reading the final page.

freida can be a difficult protagonist to like at times due to her behaviour – she makes a string of terrible choices and her justifications are hard to swallow. Having access to her thoughts was a little disturbing too; she is a product of her environment after all. Overall I really enjoyed her as a narrator and felt she gave a very true reflection of life in the world created for her. I felt a little maternal towards her by the end, as even though she made such big mistakes I loved her and just wanted to get in the story to protect her.

It’s made clear from the beginning that isabel is significant, but I could not figure out why until the very end. Keeping everyone guessing, she is enigmatic and mysterious and I couldn’t help but be sucked into the hysteria surrounding her. The other eves all envied her and wanted to know her secrets, look like her and be like her.

The other characters, especially the eves, are presented as extras, a means to an end. To freida they are either competition to beat to win the heart of the boys or tools to exploit in her pursuit. The girls were vapid and soulless, perfectly moulded into the roles prescribed to them. I loved the fiery attitudes of the chastities and felt they added an extra dimension to the secondary characters with their more powerful role in such a heavily patriarchal society.

Stylistically, this book took my breath away and left me reeling. ONLY EVER YOURS is cutting with its honesty and is brutally unforgiving. I watched helplessly as freida pressed the self-destruct button and felt her pain as vividly as if it were my own. Louise O’Neill is to the point and sharp with her words, her style mirroring the themes of the book in perfect harmony. The decision to use lower case letters for female names is so intelligent – it’s such a simple but striking reminder of inferiority throughout the entire novel. It begins to feel almost natural as you turn the pages, so assimilated to the idea by the end.

Deeply emotional and terrifyingly twisted, ONLY EVER YOURS didn’t just break my heart, it ripped it out and took pleasure in stomping all over it. This book should be required reading – as a female of course I am acutely aware of how society treats us and pushes us to think, but freida’s world truly woke me up to the horrors we ignore in everyday life. Yes, it’s speculative fiction, scifi, dystopian… but every moment is based on mountains of truths. It’s opened my eyes to how I think and feel and I certainly won’t be able to let this book go for a long time.

Louise O’Neill’s second novel, ASKING FOR IT, lands on 3rd September 2015. Though it’s bound to be another emotionally draining read with themes of rape culture and victim blaming, I know Louise will handle it with grace, respect and brutal honesty.

[REVIEW] The Fire Sermon – Francesca Haig

Summaryimage4
Characters – 5/5
Plot – 5/5
Style – 5/5
World building – 4/5
Overall – 5/5

In a Tweet
Time is running out for Cass & the Omegas if her brother’s plans come together. Can she escape & find the rebellion before it’s too late?

Review
THE FIRE SERMON is the stunning debut novel from Francesca Haig, released in hardcover on 26th February 2015.

As a Seer, visions of The Blast which reduced the world to dust haunt Cass. She wakes screaming every night, horrified by the destruction that tore The Before apart and left The After; her world. Being an Omega, these visions are just one of the many burdens she cannot escape.

In The After, children are born in pairs – one perfect Alpha destined for privilege and authority, and one mutated Omega shunned from society and treated as filth. The Alphas reign supreme with the best land, cities, facilities and all the power, while the Omegas are thrown out of the community and horribly oppressed. But still, Alphas can never fully wash the taint of their poisoned siblings away. They are linked. When one twin dies, so does the other.

This bright twist on a timeless tale of segregation and uprising makes THE FIRE SERMON stand out in a well-developed genre. The rules of Cass’ world are logical and binding, no exceptions. Once the Omega is discovered, the twins are ripped apart and sent to live the lives destiny prescribed them. Cass may have escaped the split for a few precious years, but once her visions were discovered there was no fighting back. The Alphas are torn between hating their siblings and wanting to protect them, and what Cass’ powerful twin, Zach, has in mind is truly horrifying.

It is this unique history that makes the typical world and customs of Cass’ setting something more exciting than the expected. With sprawling countrysides and medieval citadels, the surroundings are reminiscent of classic high fantasy, but beautifully imagined.

The narration is full of rich imagery and wonderfully worded language. Haig is fluent in metaphor and Cass’ frequent reflections on her past draw us in to her history and give a true insight to her character. She is often reminded of childhood stories and experiences with her twin, creating a real melanchonly undertone throughout the story.

Cass is a mature and level-headed narrator, filled with a little longing and a good pinch of rebellious ideals about equality, but she always acts with a sense of purpose. She is pulled towards her goals by her visions, her moral compass and her heart. I was really impressed with how Cass was brought to life, and felt she truly embodied what it is to be a strong leader.

The relationships forged throughout the novel feel genuine and personal too. Kip is so endearing with a quick humour and a hidden depth that is slowly revealed as time goes on. They seem to grow together in a natural way, and it’s such a wonderful partnership to read. Even Zach has a soft and gentle side to his hateful coldness, as we see him through Cass’ love tinted eyes. With such a diverse and interesting cast, it was really enjoyable to see each character’s personality and development throughout the novel. Zach especially has a deep and complex motivation for his actions.

Story-wise, the plot and direction of the novel are really strong. I guessed a few of the twists along the way but the final chapters were a complete shock! There is a lot of tension and anticipation built throughout, so the ending worked incredibly well. The originality in Haig’s writing is fresh, so this isn’t just another tale of rebellion.

For me, the execution of THE FIRE SERMON puts it a step above a lot of books in the SF/Dystopia genre. The plot is compelling and exciting and the characters simply breathe off the page. I really fell in love with this book, and I encourage you to do the same.

I received THE FIRE SERMON from HarperVoyager in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

[BOOKTOFILMFRIDAY] Divergent

divergent-banner-new-76THIS POST AND THE COMMENTS BELOW CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR DIVERGENT (BOOK #1)

When I first read the Divergent series, I absolutely fell in love with the story, the characters and the writing. Since revisiting the books and seeing the film, however, I can’t help but feel a little differently. At first, I was definitely swept away and thought it was all super original and exciting, but now I’ve had a long time to think about it, I’m not so sure.

Initially, I enjoyed the film but going back and re-watching made me realise just how long it feels. A great deal of nothing happens for well over an hour and a half, and it’s so exhausting to watch. I was really impressed with how closely the film followed the book, but it actually seemed to highlight the fact that neither book nor film have a great deal of plot driving it forward. All the action is bunched up into literally the last 20-30 minutes of the film, and up until this section the whole thing feels more than a little pointless. Maybe the story was like this in the book too, only less noticeable since we also have Tris’ narration, thoughts and feelings to keep us entertained too, but the film just felt like it would never end.

The info-dumping at the beginning of the film infuriated me. There is little worse in a film than a huge pile of back-story being shoved in the audience’s face through narration, and then that narration suddenly disappearing until the end. It drives me crazy. Either find a way to weave the exposition naturally into the film or be consistent and have the narration throughout. It seems to happen a lot with young adult and dystopian/scifi films, probably due to the sheer amount of world-building that goes into these books, but it would be lovely if this vital information could be given to the audience in a different way. It just feels a lot like cheating.

I loved nearly all the characters in the book because they all seemed to be pretty well-developed, especially Tris’ Dauntless friends and her family, but felt that some of them really didn’t translate well on-screen. Theo James really didn’t work for me as Four/Tobias; I thought he was too cold and hard to portray the Four that I envisioned in the trilogy. I wasn’t convinced by the romance between Shailene and Theo whatsoever. I think Shai is a great actress but after seeing her on-screen chemistry with Ansel Elgort in The Fault in Our Stars, there is just no comparison here. To me, Four felt far too detached and emotionless and it made the romance with Tris feel random, unwarranted and even out of character. The book definitely wins out in the romance department as it’s a gradual, creeping realisation between the two which develops in a much more logical way.

four and tris

I thought Shailene in particular was brilliant. I love how you can see every emotion pass across her face and the way she’s able to convey Tris’ inner emotions without even speaking. One of my favourite scenes is the Choosing Ceremony purely down to Shailene’s performance. She’s clearly agonising over the choice the way it’s depicted in the book, and it just feels so real. This is the moment where Tris struggles over the decision over who she is and who she’s going to become, whether she is selfless enough to choose Abnegation or brave enough to be Dauntless. It’s a hugely important scene that sets up the entire movie and, in my opinion, Shailene nailed it.

choosing ceremony

I did enjoy reading the Divergent trilogy, mainly down to the exciting story and Veronica Roth’s easy to digest style. The books really do make for a good read and while I could definitely have been kinder about Divergent, I actually did enjoy the film for the most part. A number of scenes could definitely have found their way to the cutting room floor, but it’s always fun to see a book you enjoyed come to life.

Now that the story and background are set up properly, the rest of the films should be much more dynamic, action-packed and interesting to watch. I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the series translates to film, and only hope we get more sustained excitement throughout rather than cramming it all at the end!

Did you enjoy the book to film adaptation of Divergent? Do you agree or disagree with what I’ve mentioned? Let’s chat in the comments!

Charlotte x