BONUS BOOK: The Elite by Kiera Cass

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“It looked like she could tell there was more to it than that, but she didn’t press me. It was almost comforting, this mutual acceptance of our secrets.”

Genre: Fiction, Romance, Dystopian

Book Jacket Synopsis: “The Selection began with thirty-five girls. Now with the group narrowed down to the six Elite, the competition to win Prince Maxon’s heart is fiercer than ever – and America is still struggling to decide where her heart truly lies. Is it with Maxon, who could make her life a fairy tale? Or with her first love, Aspen? America is desperate for more time. But the rest of the Elite know exactly what they want – and America’s chance to choose is about to slip away.”

Review:  I am sorry to say that The Elite was a pretty terrible book. There were definitely chapters where this novel rang true to the whimsical and entertaining nature of its predecessor, The Selection. However, I spent an overwhelming majority of the book wondering if and when it was going to improve. I chalk my disappointment down to failed execution in one major plot line: the America-Aspen-Maxon love triangle. My primary issue with the love triangle was how completely America swayed between her two suitors. In one chapter, she would decide that she wanted a future with Maxon and that Aspen was in her past. Fast forward a few chapters, and she’s suddenly back to thinking that she could never be queen and will never stop loving Aspen. It would be a different story if America felt slight indecision, or if she mentally wavered between the two guys before committing to one, but every couple of chapters she appears to completely switch her stance. This happens MULTIPLE times. It was tiresome and molded America into an increasingly annoying character. Given that the frustrating love triangle drove the book’s plot, I was happy when this novel ended. On a side note, one of the best things about this book was a quote from Publishers Weekly on the back cover:

“A cross between The Hunger Games (minus the bloodsport) and The Bachelor (minus the bloodsport).”

Rating:

Two_Star

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BONUS BOOK: The Selection by Kiera Cass

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“But they did hold together, and as they floated on, this gift that was meant to be something for Kriss became something for me.”

Genre: Fiction, Romance, Dystopian

Book Jacket Synopsis: “For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity 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, and leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she begins to realize that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.”

Review: The best way I can describe The Selection is Cinderella meets The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor. This story takes place in a mildly dystopian future as the heroine, America Singer, grapples with her acceptance into a regal matchmaking process known as the Selection. From the Cinderella perspective, The Selection is filled with elaborate ballgowns, fancy events, and (of course) princes and princesses. This novel rings true to The Hunger Games in that the Selection process is broadcast throughout the dystopian nation of Ilea. Ilean society is also divided into different castes, with the royal family being labeled a One and societal outcasts an Eight (America is a Five, making her one of the lowest-ranking Selection participants). And, for obvious reasons (i.e., thirty-five girls competing for one crown… the final rose, you might say), I definitely got a Bachelor vibe from this book. I considered giving The Selection a three-star rating, largely due to several instances of poor character dialogue and flat interactions, but went with four stars in the end because this first installment left me looking forward to the second and I found the idea to be genuinely entertaining. Altogether, I would classify The Selection as a perfect beach book: the type of book that you finish in a single day but doesn’t necessarily leave you a better person for having read it.

Rating:

Four_Star

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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“In our world, I rank music somewhere between hair ribbons and rainbows in terms of usefulness. At least a rainbow gives you a tip about the weather.”

Genre: Adventure, Dystopian, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before – and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.”

Review: I have a certain fondness for The Hunger Games because this book introduced me (and likely many other people) to the merits of dystopian fiction. It is somewhat challenging for me to review The Hunger Games, however, because I have read the full series many times; my interpretation of this book is clouded by my feelings regarding the second and third books. However, if I really isolate myself from Catching Fire and Mockingjay, which I did not enjoy nearly as much as The Hunger Games, I can comfortably say that The Hunger Games is a really outstanding first installment. Suzanne Collins does an excellent job of fully immersing her readers in the eccentric world of Panem, and I found myself easily drawn into the tension of the Games. My reason for giving The Hunger Games four out of five stars largely centralizes on one character in particular: Peeta. Overall, Collins fails to make me genuinely care about Peeta’s fate. I understand that he was always meant to be secondary to strong, intelligent, skillful Katniss, but I found his characterization to be lackluster, especially when compared to several supplementary characters like Rue. As one of the main characters, he falls oddly flat in my opinion.

Reason for Ban/Challenge: The Hunger Games has made it onto the American Library Association’s top ten list of most frequently challenged books on three separate occasions: 2013 (ranked fifth), 2011 (ranked third), and 2010 (ranked fifth). The reasons cited as justification for challenging the book span the typical gauntlet, and include anti-ethnic, anti-family, insensitivity, offensive language, occult/satanic, violence, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group. Having read the book multiple times, the only reason that even remotely makes sense is that the books have some violence. The Hunger Games is, after all, a story about children killing each other. The rest of the reasons, however, are extremely befuddling. To my knowledge, not a single swear word (or other example of offensive language) is uttered throughout the entire first book. My best guess for the occult/satanic claim is that the main characters show no apparent belief in any sort of god. And sexually-explicit is particularly confusing, given that the most sexually-explicit thing that happens in The Hunger Games is a kiss. Altogether, these particular complaints lead me to question whether the dissenters actually even read the novel.

Rating:

Four_Star

Bonus: Edited cover from the Buzzfeed article titled “19 Banned Books if They Were Made Appropriate” (http://www.buzzfeed.com/juliapugachevsky/banned-books-if-they-were-g-rated#.oh3oNwL0b).

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BONUS BOOK: Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

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“And I must tell you that others were there too: the Lenape maiden and the boy she fell for and Grace, Charlie’s Grace, and many more, many more than a camera could ever see. So many, and I couldn’t have said why.”

Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Stargirl has moved and left everything behind: Arizona, enchanted desert places – and Leo, her once (and future?) boyfriend. He’s all she can think about, and her life begins to feel like a parade of unhappy anniversaries. Then Stargirl meets her wonderfully bizarre new neighbors: Dootsie, the curly-headed five-year-old “human bean;” Betty Lou, who hasn’t stepped outside her house for nine years; hot-tempered Alvina with that one glittery nail; and Perry Delloplane, the blue-eyed thief who soon lays his own claim to Stargirl’s heart. In letters to Leo over the course of a year, Stargirl comes to find hope in new places: mockingbirds, donut angels, and the Winter Solstice – the turning point day when dark tips to light. But what’s life without Leo? Will he – can he – answer that one crucial question she asks every morning to the rising sun? In this companion novel to Stargirl, Newbery Medalist Jerry Spinelli continues his beloved heroine’s story in a tale of hurt and healing, solstice and sunbeams.”

Review: This book. GUYS. I don’t even know where to begin. When I first found out that there was a companion novel to Stargirl, I was annoyed with myself for having not discovered it sooner. However, having finally finished Love, Stargirl, I can now say that this book found me at the exact right time in my life. I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate it as much as I do now if I had discovered it earlier.

“Live today. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Just today. Inhabit your moments. Don’t rent them out to tomorrow.”

If you’ve read even little portions of my blog, you’ve probably realized that I am pretty obsessive when it comes to novel pacing. Many of the books that I really enjoyed reading miss out on a four- or five-star rating because I find the pacing to be, more often than not, too fast. Love, Stargirl is perhaps the most perfectly paced book I have ever read. Consider the character of Perry Delloplane. I knew from reading the Love, Stargirl book jacket that he was going to be a new love interest for Stargirl. And I automatically hated him for it. Stargirl is supposed to end up with Leo! Yes, he may have tried to change her into “Susan,” but by the end of Stargirl he realizes the error of his ways. They are meant to be together!

“Let’s promise each other that if we ever meet again we will never plow and push our new-fallen snow. We will not become slush. We will stay like this field and melt away together only in the sun’s good time.”

Poor Perry, already the object of my animosity and I hadn’t even cracked the book open yet. But, thanks to Spinelli’s excellent writing and Stargirl’s engaging inner monologue, I was able to handle (even like, I daresay) Perry. This book is beautifully written and manages the impossible task of living up to the stellar reputation set by its predecessor. I am sure that I will return to Love, Stargirl many times over the coming years. Ultimately, it’s the story of how a girl learns to reclaim her future in the face of lost love and, in doing so, becomes the very best version of herself. She has help along the way and the outstanding cast of supplementary characters (in particular, Dootise and Alvina) make this novel that much richer.

“We long to be found, hoping our searchers have not given up and gone home. But I no longer hope to be found, Leo. Do not follow me! Let’s just be fabulously where we are and who we are. You be you and I’ll be me, today and today and today, and let’s trust the future to tomorrow. Let the stars keep track of us.”

 

Rating:

Five_Star

 

BONUS BOOK: City of Lost Souls (The Mortal Instruments, Book 5) by Cassandra Clare

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“I have taken your measure and found it lacking, but I have not my lady’s tastes.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “The demon Lilith has been destroyed and Jace freed from captivity. But when the Shadowhunters arrive, they find only blood and broken glass: Jace, the boy Clary loves, and Sebastian, the brother Clary hates, have disappeared. The Clave’s magic cannot locate either boy, but Jace can’t stay away from Clary. When they meet again, Clary is horrified to discover that Lilith’s magic has bound Jace together with Sebastian, and that Jace has become a servant of evil. The Clave is out to eradicate Sebastian, but there is no way to harm one boy without destroying the other. Alec, Magnus, Simon, and Isabelle scheme and bargain to save Jace, but Clary is utterly alone, playing a dangerous game. If she loses, her life – and Jace’s soul – are forfeit. She’d do anything for Jace, but can she still trust him? Or is he truly lost?”

Review: City of Lost Souls certainly improved in ways that its predecessor, City of Fallen Angels, failed (https://bannedbookbrigade.wordpress.com/2016/03/05/bonus-book-city-of-fallen-angels-the-mortal-instruments-book-4-by-cassandra-clare/). While Cassandra Clare once again chose to allow different character’s perspectives to dominate certain chapters, the inclusion of characters beyond just Simon (such as Isabelle, Maia, and Jordan) helped break up this rather lengthy fifth installment. As Clare undoubtedly hoped for, Sebastian’s apparent change of heart left my mind working on overdrive to figure out exactly what he was planning. And the newfound Jace/Sebastian relationship definitely frustrated me, exactly as it was intended to do. City of Fallen Angels doesn’t quite live up to the high set by book three, but it does bring back an improved sense of character development and complexity. I’m excited to see how the sixth and final installment brings it all together!

Rating:

Three_Star

BONUS BOOK: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

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“We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing them becomes too high…”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Mystery, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of peculiar photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens,  horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its decaying bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that Miss Peregrine’s children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow – impossible though it seems – they may still be alive.”

Review: I wanted to love Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Truly, I did. When a series is hailed as being “the next Harry Potter,” I automatically take interest; my ears perk up. Perhaps it was because Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has received such high praise that I found it to be underwhelming. Yes, I commend Ransom Riggs on excellent incorporation of vintage photographs into a complex plot; I was always eager to see the pictures that accompanied Riggs’ elaborate descriptions of peculiar phenomenon. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children successfully demonstrates a new method of storytelling that certainly has a powerful effect on the reader. Unfortunately, I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated as the novel progressed, largely because Jacob’s introduction and immersion into Ms. Peregrine’s world happens at an alarmingly fast pace. The first half of the novel is largely dedicated to Jacob’s attempt to deal with his grandfather’s brutal death. His grief, and subsequent attempts to overcome it, ultimately funnel into a plan to visit the remote island his grandfather grew up on in an attempt to reach some closure. As soon as Jacob arrives on the island, the book’s pace exponentially increases to an almost comical level. I also found myself easily predicting the book “twist,” which was disappointing. I agree with most reviewers on the things that Ransom Riggs did right: imagination, setting, character development, photograph incorporation. But this book gets 3/5 stars from me largely because of pacing.

Rating:

Three_Star

BONUS BOOK: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

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“It was wonderful to see, wonderful to be in the middle of: we mud frogs awakening all around. We were awash in tiny attentions.”

Genre: Fiction, Bildungsroman

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Stargirl. She’s as magical as the desert sky. As strange as her pet rate. As mysterious as her own name. And she capture Leo Borlock’s heart with just one smile. But when the students of Mica High turn on Stargirl for everything that makes her different, Leo urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her: normal. In celebration of nonconformity, Newberry Medalist Jerry Spinelli weaves a tense, emotional tale about the perils of popularity – and the inspiration of first love.”

Review: If I think back to my childhood, few books moved me as much as those written by Jerry Spinelli (two in particular: Crash and Stargirl). When I first read Stargirl, I felt like I had discovered one of the world’s best-kept secrets. I remember cherishing the book, reading certain sections over and over again, grappling with the unexpected feelings of melancholy that settled over me at the end of each reading. And somehow, inexplicably, I forgot about this book. It was only recently, through my job at a bookstore, that I came across a copy of Stargirl on our shelves and was reminded of my earlier love for the novel. And, lo and behold, I realized that Spinelli had written a companion novel (Love, Stargirl) in 2007 that I was completely unaware of. I’ll tackle Love, Stargirl in a later post, but this one is dedicated to reaffirming my love for Stargirl. This book is, hands down, my favorite nonconformity novel in existence. I’ve always found myself drawn to books that have completely original and singular heroines. In more recent years, this has boiled down to a deep affection for authors John Green and Barbara Kingsolver, both who are experts at creating multi-faceted female characters. However, what I realized by re-reading Stargirl was that my fascination with completely unique heroines began much earlier in life, when I first read a book by Jerry Spinelli. Spinelli’s powerful storytelling allows him to craft unforgettable characters, even beyond the titular character and Leo Borlock (case and point: Archie Hapwood). This book remains a seminal piece of my childhood, and I am much happier for having rediscovered it as an adult. Read it.

“She was bendable light: she shone around every corner of my day.”

Rating:

Five_Star