BONUS BOOK: Life and Death – Twilight Reimagined by Stephenie Meyer

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“But you see, just because we’ve been dealt… a certain hand… it doesn’t mean that we can’t choose to rise above – to conquer the boundaries of a destiny that none of us wanted.”

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “When Beaufort Swan moves to the gloomy town of Forks and meets the mysterious, alluring Edythe Cullen, his life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. With her porcelain skin, golden eyes, mesmerizing voice, and supernatural gifts, Edythe is both irresistible and enigmatic. What Beau doesn’t realize is the closer he gets to her, the more he is putting himself and those around him at risk. And, it might be too late to turn back… In celebration oaf the tenth anniversary of Twilight, Stephenie Meyer has crafted Life and Death, a bold an compelling reimagining of the iconic love story that will surprise and enthrall readers. This special dual edition includes a foreward by the author as well as the complete original novel.”

Review: Oh boy. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. Yikes. Firstly, keep this Life and Death quote (spoken by Edythe to Beau when he tries to pay for dinner) in mind throughout this review. It will be important:

“Try not to get caught up in antiquated gender roles.”

I hadn’t heard about Life and Death until recently, when I saw a vaguely Twilight-esque book in a bookstore. Given my middle school infatuation with the series, I had to investigate. As it turns out, Stephenie Meyer decided to publish Life and Death in order to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Twilight. Instead of giving her readers what they actually want (Midnight Sun, aka Twilight from Edward’s perspective), she instead opted for this “reimagining.” The entire book honestly feels like she used “find and replace” to swap out most pronouns and character names in Twilight and called it a day. The more drastic plot changes she did make were utter failures. In Life and Death’s foreward, Meyer attempts to explain herself.

“You know, Bella has always gotten a lot of censure for getting rescued on multiple occasions, and people have complained about her being a typical damsel in distress. My answer to that has always been that Bella is a human in distress, a normal human being surrounded on all sides by people who are basically superheroes and supervillains. She’s also been criticized for being too consumed with her love interest, as if that’s somehow just a girl thing. But I’ve always maintained that it would have made no difference if the human were male and the vampire female – it’s still the same story.

Meyer then goes on to say the following about the changes she made in Life and Death (which I have abbreviated in places).

“There are many more changes in the writing than were necessitated by Beau’s status as a male person, so I thought I would break them down for you…”

5% of the changes I made were because Beau is a boy.

-5% of the changes were because Beau’s personality developed just slightly differently than Bella’s…

-70% of the changes I made were because I was allowed to do a new editing run ten years later…

-10% were things that I wished I had done the first time around but that hadn’t occurred to me at the time…

-5% were mythology issues – mistakes, actually – mostly related to visions…

-Which leaves a 5% catchall, for the many miscellaneous changes that I made, each for a different, and no doubt selfish, reason.

Having now read the book, I have gone back and bolded the parts of the foreward that I think are most critical for this review to make sense. Essentially, Meyer sets the scene for a book that is supposed to prove one main point: the Twilight story is the same, regardless of the gender of the vampire and human. In this quest she spectacularly fails. Perhaps it is her exact words that doom her later on. The changes she makes because Beau is a boy tie directly into the “antiquated gender roles” that she seemed so eager to avoid. It comes across as almost offensive in certain parts of Life and Death. For example, consider the infamous scene when Bella finds herself lost in a bad part of Port Angeles. Although not explicitly stated, she runs into an all-male group and is in immediate danger of being sexually assaulted before Edward comes to her rescue. In Life and Death, the circumstances surrounding Beau’s need for rescue are very different. Once again lost in Port Angeles, he instead finds himself in danger of being SHOT by a mixed-gender group of teenagers who believe that he is a cop. Seriously? SERIOUSLY? In a similar vein, consider the backstory of Royal, the male counterpart to sullen Cullen sibling Rosalie. In Twilight, Rosalie is sexually assaulted by her fiance and almost dies before being saved by Emmett. In Life and Death, Royal is beaten to the brink of death. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t hoping to see Beau or Royal sexually assaulted in Life and Death. But the changes Meyer makes leave a distinct impression that the instances of sexual assault (or almost assault in Bella’s case) in Twilight were UNNECESSARY and were simply used to garner a sympathy for the characters that could have been achieved using different means. I am not the first to hone in on this discrepancy. If Meyer really wanted to achieve a groundbreaking reimagining, she could have gone for an LGBTQ couple in the main roles. Something more than just pronoun switching and offensive changes. Even small details, such as the room where Bella and Beau are supposed to meet the hunter have slight, but noticeable (and questionable) changes. In Twilight, Bella recognizes the room as where she took ballet as a child. In Life and Death, Beau recognizes it as the room where his mom taught ballet for a brief stint. Would it have killed Meyer to have Beau take ballet as a child too? The parts of the story that are new (such as the ending, when Beau is actually turned into a vampire whereas Bella had to wait two more books for that) ended up being a complete information dump. In 30 pages, a half-conscious Beau learns about the rules of being a vampire, the Volturi, the Quileute wolves, and all the Cullen character backstories (again, Bella had an entire four-book series to gather this information). It’s ridiculous. The whole thing felt like a money-laundering scheme, where Meyer was given free rein and was allowed to publish a first draft. All in all, Life and Death is a failure in every single way. Not worth the read.

Rating:

One_Star

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BONUS BOOK: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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“I think I’ve got a map in my car that wants to be used, and I think there are places we can go that need to be seen. Maybe no one else will ever visit them and appreciate them or take the time to think they’re important, but maybe even the smallest places mean something. And if not, maybe they can mean something to us. At the very least, by the time we leave, we know we will have seen it, this great state of ours. So come on. Let’s go. Let’s count for something. Let’s get off that ledge.”

Genre: Fiction, Romance

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Theodore Finch is fascinated by death. Every day he thinks of ways he might die, but every day he also searches for – and manages to find – something to keep him here, and alive, and awake. Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her small Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s death. When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school – six stories above the ground – it’s unclear who saves whom. And when the unlikely pair teams up on a class project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, they go, as Finch says, where the road takes them: the grand, the small, the bizarre, the beautiful, the ugly, the surprising – just like life. Soon it’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a bold, funny, live-out-loud guy, who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet forgets to count away the days and starts living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. This is a heart-wrenching, unflinching story of love shared, life lived, and two teens who find one another while standing on the edge.”

Review: I’ll preface this entire review by saying that All the Bright Places actually made me cry. Which pretty much guarantees at least four out of five stars because books very rarely make me cry. I figured out very early on what was likely going to happen, but that didn’t stop me from feverishly flipping through the pages until my suspicions were actually confirmed. As Niven’s first dabble in YA fiction (she more typically can be found writing adult fiction and nonfiction), All the Bright Places definitely succeeded on several different levels. I particularly liked the “wander Indiana” subplot. What initially starts out as a class assignment to find two interesting landmarks in Indiana gradually turns into Violet and Finch’s scavenger hunt to discover as many unique, bizarre, and hidden destinations as possible.

Violet: “Why do you want me to do this project with you anyway?”

Finch: “Because our mountain is waiting.”

All the Bright Places does offer a compelling look into how mental illness can manifest itself in different aspects of daily life and also tackles some very prevalent issues in society today, including bullying, suicide, and the stigma associated with mental illness. Unfortunately, I couldn’t justify giving All the Bright Places a perfect five star review  because the story didn’t necessarily feel authentic. This novel rings too true to several other YA fiction predecessors, including The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor and Park. While the writing is good and the characters are likeable, the plot feels somewhat contrived and oftentimes left me very frustrated. But Niven obviously got me to care enough about her story that I cried at the end. All in all, I think people will enjoy All the Bright Places if they go into this book with the expectation that it will be John Green- and Rainbow Rowell-esque, but also has its own merits and spots of brightness.

Rating:

Four_Star

BONUS BOOK: Four by Veronica Roth

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“I’m not sure bravery is something you acquire more of with age, like wisdom – but maybe here, in Dauntless, bravery is the highest form of wisdom, the acknowledgement that life can and should be lived without fear.”

Genre: Dystopian, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis:  “Two years before Beatrice Prior made her choice, the sixteen-year-old son of Abnegation’s faction leader did the same. Tobias’s transfer to Dauntless is a chance to begin again. Here, he will not be called the name his parents gave him. Here, he will not let fear turn him into a cowering child. Newly christened “Four,” he discovers during initiation that he will succeed in Dauntless. Initiation is only the beginning, though; Four must claim his place in the Dauntless hierarchy. His decisions will affect future initiates as well as uncover secrets that could threaten his own future – and the future of the entire faction system. Two years later, Four is poised to take action, but the course is still unclear. The first new initiate who jumps into the net might change all that. With her, the way to righting their world might become clear. With her, it might become possible to be Tobias once again. From #1 New York Times bestselling author Veronica Roth comes a companion volume to the worldwide bestselling Divergent series, told from the perspective of the immensely popular character Tobias. The four pieces included here – The Transfer, The Initiate, The Son, and The Traitor – plus three additional exclusive scenes, give readers an electrifying glimpse into the history and heart of Tobias, and set the stage for the epic saga of the Divergent trilogy.”

Review: After reading Four, I think I need to amend a statement I made in my review of Happily Ever After, companion novel to the Selection series. In my review, I came to the realization that “I don’t like novellas if they act as a companion to much bigger novels or series.” I can now say that that statement is not entirely true. Overall, I felt like Four was a nice addition to the Divergent series. It was interesting to have a window into Four’s background and to better understand how his upbringing influenced his actions. While I felt like Kiera Cass stretched herself too thin by focusing on six different characters in Happily Ever After, Veronica Roth achieved a much more manageable scope by focusing solely on Four. In my opinion, Roth is also a better writer than Cass, which likely added to my enhanced opinion of Four. I doubt I will ever read Four again, but I also don’t fee like my time spent reading it was wasted (as I did after reading Happily Ever After). For fans of the Divergent series, Four is a welcomed opportunity to return to that world.

Rating:

Three_Star

BONUS BOOK: Winter by Marissa Meyer

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“Help me. Fight for me. And I will be the first ruler in the history of Luna who will also fight for you.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana. Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend, the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long. Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? Fans will not want to miss this thrilling conclusion to Marissa Meyer’s nationally bestselling Lunar Chronicles series.”

Review: In Winter, we are introduced to Marissa Meyer’s last heroine and final fairy-tale retelling. This time, she turns her attention to the story of Snow White, with the myriad of plot twists and alterations that fans of the Lunar Chronicles series have come to love. Out of the four titular heroines (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter), Winter may very well be my favorite. Having decided to stop using her Lunar powers of manipulation and mind-control at age thirteen, she is now racked with symptoms of the Lunar sickness: uncontrollable hallucinations and nightmares. Affectionately nicknamed “Crazy” by Scarlet and “Trouble” by Jacin, Winter quickly evolves into one of the series most lovable characters. This development occurs not in spite of her questionable lunacy, but rather because of it. Accompanying Winter is the exemplary cast of characters that series fans have come to love throughout the course of the previous three books. Cinder, Thorne, Cress, and Iko are in full force throughout Winter. My primary complaint with this final installment in the Lunar Chronicles series is that it just felt too long. At 823 pages, I can’t even begin to count the number of times that our intrepid group of nine was split up, rejoined, split again, escaped near-death situations, was lost and found, lost and found. It became tedious near the end of the novel. I can’t say which scenes I would specifically cut had I been in Meyer’s shoes, but it was a welcome relief to finally get to the epic series conclusion. Altogether, I think the Lunar Chronicles series is one of the best young adult fantasy/adventure series in a long time. My overall series rating would probably be 4 stars out of 5!

Rating:

Four_Star

 

BONUS BOOK: Cress by Marissa Meyer

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“Perhaps your friend was brave enough to join her guard. My son was brave enough not to.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “In this third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army. Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who’s only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice. When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a  high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.”

Review: I am happy to say that my prediction made at the conclusion of the Scarlet book review (“… I think Cress may bring back some of the imagination and color that was ample in Cinder but missing in Scarlet.”) turned out to be a true; Cress was a major success and reinstated my faith in the Lunar Chronicles series. I mean, there isn’t much to dislike about a Rapunzel retelling that has the heroine trapped in an isolated, orbiting satellite as opposed to an entrance-free castle. This third Lunar Chronicles installment treks a sweeping path through Meyer’s fantastical world, with the story going from outer space to Saharan Africa, from New Beijing to Luna and back again. Whereas Scarlet and Wolf dominated the previous novel, this third book turned the focus once again onto Cinder and Thorne, with the addition of Cress. Given that “everybody’s favorite cyborg mechanic” is the reason I fell in love with this series to begin with, it was a welcomed shift. As mentioned in the Book Jacket Synopsis, the group does face a split very early on: Scarlet is kidnapped by Queen Levana’s head thaumaturge, Cinder escapes with an injured Wolf and a Lunar guard with questionable loyalties, and Cress and Thorne find themselves stranded in the Saharan desert, with only the wreckage of Cress’ satellite for company. As these three parties attempt to find their ways back to one another, they each face their own obstacles and triumphs. I won’t spoil it any further, but suffice it to say that Cress was filled with lush landscapes, great character development, and a strong sense of adventure that has already become closely associated with Meyer’s name. One of my favorite relationships in the Lunar Chronicles remains that between Cinder and her android, Iko. Iko has been programmed beyond the normal android capacities, and in doing so has developed a personality (complete with sarcasm, daydreams, and humor) of her own. The following exchange occurs when the entire group is attempting to escape from the New Beijing palace. It’s a reminder that, while Iko is more advanced than many of her android counterparts, she still has a long way to go before truly having a grasp on human emotions.

“Iko bent toward her. ‘That dress looks amazing on you,’ she said. ‘Cinder, doesn’t she look amazing?'”

“Cinder sighed as the elevator came to a full stop. ‘Iko, after this we’re going to start working on occasion appropriateness.'”

Rating:

Five_Star

 

BONUS BOOK: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

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“We feel all of the same things, only the shapes of our feelings are different.”

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “It’s been five years since the events of City of Heavenly Fire that brought the Shadowhunters to the brink of oblivion. Emma Carstairs is no longer a child in mourning, but a young woman bent on discovering what killed her parents and avenging her losses. Together with her parabatai Julian Blackthorn, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches across Los Angeles, from the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica. If only her heart didn’t lead her in treacherous directions… Making things even more complicated, Julian’s brother Mark—who was captured by the faeries five years ago―has been returned as a bargaining chip. The faeries are desperate to find out who is murdering their kind―and they need the Shadowhunters’ help to do it. But time works differently in faerie, so Mark has barely aged and doesn’t recognize his family. Can he ever truly return to them? Will the faeries really allow it? Glitz, glamours, and Shadowhunters abound in this heartrending opening to Cassandra Clare’s Dark Artifices series.”

Review: I have to admit, I did not have high hopes for Lady Midnight. While I did enjoy reading Cassandra Clare’s vastly popular Mortal Instruments series, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the writing or plot development. The series was addicting, but not necessarily because it was particularly special or well-written. For that reason, I went into Lady Midnight with relatively low expectations, buoyed by a desire to return to the Shadowhunter world for a little bit. At the conclusion of the novel, I have to say I was really impressed. Lady Midnight is a vast improvement over Clare’s previous works. I think this improvement largely stems from enhanced character and plot development. Not only were Emma and Julian more likeable main characters than Jace and Clary had ever been, but Clare also devoted a lot of time to delving deeper into the personalities of Julian’s large family, from innocent youngest child Tavvy to odd-ball Ty. There was something refreshing about reading a Shadowhunter book that didn’t solely focus on the evil-doings of Sebastian Morgenstern, and I was genuinely surprised when I found out the culprit behind the demonic plot unfurling in Los Angeles. I also thought that the book benefited from Clare really going into detail on what it means to be parabatai; while Alec and Jace are parabatai, and their specific relationship is discussed to a certain extent throughout the Mortal Instruments series, the Emma/Julian parabatai relationship (and all the complications that come with having more-than-familial feelings about your parabatai) was more greatly explored in Lady Midnight. There is also a lot more humor in Lady Midnight than I found in any of the Mortal Instruments books. For example, the following exchange between Emma and the Blackthorn family occurred after Julian was almost killed by a mysterious person with poisoned arrows.

Emma: “But he hurt Jules, so when we track him down, I’m going to chop him up and feed him to my fish.”

Julian: “You don’t have a fish.”

Emma: “Well, I’m going to buy some. I’m going to buy goldfish and feed them blood until they acquire a taste for human flesh.”

Altogether, I think the Dark Artifices series shows a lot of potential and I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book.

Rating:

Four_Star

 

BONUS BOOK: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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“And she thought about winning. About how she was letting this win, whatever this was – the crazy inside of her. Cath, zero. Crazy, one million.”

Genre: Bildungsroman, Fiction

Book Jacket Synopsis: “Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan… But for Cath, being a fan is her life – and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere. Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to. Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend; a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world; a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… and she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. For Cath the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?”

Review: Hats off to you, Rainbow Rowell. As I predicted at the end of my Eleanor and Park (https://bannedbookbrigade.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/bonus-book-eleanor-and-park-by-rainbow-rowell/) review, I had a sneaking suspicion that I would enjoy Fangirl. That suspicion was confirmed just a few chapters into the book. If I had to decipher the root of my affection for this novel, I think it would come down to excellent, excellent character development. I don’t know that everyone will love Cath as a narrator and protagonist. She is socially incompetent, completely and happily isolated in her world of Simon Snow and fan fiction. Her identical twin sister, Wren, and her bipolar father are the only two people who have ever successfully coaxed Cath out of her coveted isolation. But when she gets to college and finds that Wren is hell-bent on gaining some independence, she cuts herself off from everything except classes and Simon Snow. Her isolation is short-lived, however, when her blunt and surly roommate, Reagan, begins to pity her and somewhat grudgingly draws Cath under her wing. My reasons for identifying with both Cath and Reagan are vastly different. With Cath, the “crazy” in her reminds me a lot of the crazy in me. Her social anxiety, tendency towards jealousy, and ability to completely disappear in an imaginary world all ring true to certain traits of my own. And with Reagan, I couldn’t help but laugh almost every time she interacted with Cath. The quotes below are some of my favorite from Fangirl and all of them belong to Reagan.

“If God put me into your life to keep you from wearing a fucking tail,” Reagan said, “I accept the assignment.”

“If he were still my boyfriend, we’d have to throw down. But he’s not. So let’s go have lunch, okay?”

“He talks about you like you’re something he found in a natural history museum.”

Cath: “Have you been watching me sleep?” Reagan: “Yes, Bella. Are you awake?”

All in all, I can understand why Rainbow Rowell fans herald Fangirl as her defining and most successful work. It’s one of the best-told and realistic coming-of-age stories I have ever read, and I am sure it will be one that I reread many times in the years to come.

Rating:

Five_Star