Review: “The One” by Kiera Cass

indexTo sum up “The Selection” series in one sound? Meh.  It was okay.  I’m glad I read it.  I might ask for the box set for the holidays because it is so pretty (i.e. pretty dresses in pretty colors; I’m a sap).  I would recommend it to someone if they were trapped in the Post-Apocalyptic Dystopian Teen Death Brawl Love Triangle story line (“The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” “Crossed,” etc.) and couldn’t find their way to realistic teen literature.

“The One” ends the story in a fairly predictable pattern.  America is still in the final group despite being hated by the King and undermining the Prince whenever she can.  Still Maxon and America work together with the Northern rebels.  The Northern rebels appear to be the civilized rebels in favor of information that might better the people while the Southern rebels just like to hack everyone to bits. Speaking of mercilessly going about life, the next task the Elite (the final gals in the selection) must face is the Convicting.  They must condemn a man to punishment for his crimes in a public show of their adherence to the King’s rules.  Also, coincidentally, this is a time in which the Prince is expected to give them jewelry of his own choosing.  All the other women follow through and condemn their respective criminal and of course, America finds a loophole and gives the man her jewelry to pay his penance.  People love it, King Clarkson hates it.

So there they are, working to over throw the government when America’s dad dies.  She is rushed to Carolina where here snotty older brother outs her and Aspen’s relationship(?). She decides it is time to come clean about that chapter of her life with Maxon so upon her return she prepares herself to tell him only to discover that in her absence he has decided to announce her as his bride.  For whatever reason he witnesses her in some sort of embrace with Aspen infuriating him and unleashing a very unbecoming side of himself.  Just as he is preparing to announce Kriss as his wife-to-be, rebels from the South break into the room killing several people, injuring others.  The story ends with the King-to-be Maxon declaring his undying love for his wife-to-be.

First off, Maxon and America’s will-the-won’t-they relationship is a headache.  Come on people, you are dealing with real lives here.  Get your nonsense together.  Secondly, why in the world does Aspen put up with this for so long?  Fortunately he does eventually see through America’s bull nonsense and develops a thing for a maid and its sweet but the constant devotion (of a romantic level) to someone who isn’t so sure about you and is also dating the Prince is kind of a drag.  Pretty much every character in this book is a standard literary stereotype and that’s sad.

Poor guy striving for the unattainable girl? Check.

Wealthy guy with the heart of gold?  Check.

Poor gal who wants to change the world if only she had the influence to do it?  Check.

Rich gal who doesn’t care about the lot of you because you get in the way of her moisturizing routine?  Check.

The primary series was okay, entertaining and what not.  There is however a really cool thing where there are two novellas, one told from Maxon’s perspective and the other from Aspen’s perspective.  I started “The Prince” but I was also kind of done with the whole series, so…

Review: “The Elite” by Kiera Cass

16248068Okay, yes.  So sue me.  I binge read the entire “Selection” series by Cass in a week.  My world has not changed for the better because of it, it more or less has just moved forward.

“The Elite” picks up right where “The Selection” ends.  America and Prince Maxon are on a date and America confides in him that she would like to know what Halloween is.  He takes her to a secret library with what I can only imagine is a catalog computer and they learn all about Halloween and decide to host a costumed ball in honor of it.  The day following the delightful ball, America is quickly awoken and taken outdoors with the six, excuse me, five remaining women; one, Marlee, is missing.  It has been discovered that Marlee and a guard have fallen in love and developed a relationship and in penance for their actions against the Prince, they are to be killed.  Prince Maxon is merciful and decides to have them beaten instead of killed though America doesn’t see it as such and causes a disturbance as she goes after Marlee to protect her.  Though the public adores her actions, the King is furious.

Prince Maxon continues to make more aggressive advances on the other women hurting America.  This, in combination with the King’s near-constant fury, solidifies the idea that America does not belong at the palace and when it comes time for the women to outline their ideas of a sweeping change they would make for their kingdom, she manages to choose the one nearest her heart but also the one with the most potential to overthrow the kingdom: remove the castes.  Though furious, everyone at the palace are distracted by another rebel attack.  This time they’ve gotten into the palace and America and Prince Maxon just happen to run into each other as they are being shuttled into a safe room.  America quickly notices that the Prince is hurt with several wounds and scars on his back.  He confides in her that the King abuses him.  America cleans him up and they reaffirm their affections for one another though she becomes convinced that he wants her to leave.  When they are cleared to leave the safe room, she goes to pack her bags.  After one final run in with the King, America changes her mind and decides that not only does she love Maxon but that he is worth fighting for.

I thought this one was pretty weak especially compared to “The Selection.”  While the series has not entirely rocked my socks off, “The Elite” was very weak.  Every time Prince Maxon needed to make a big decision or something important effecting how he would rule his kingdom, America just happened to be there.  A metaphor for the final book, yes, but still?  Every single event?  That’s a bit much.  Also King Clarkson is a terrible person.  How can his beloved Queen Amberly not see that?  Not only that but what in the world is Aspen doing wasting his time on America?  He continues to protect her as a guard but clearly there is something more.  Sure he is fighting for his love, but it becomes increasingly obvious that America only has time for Aspen when she is frustrated with Maxon.

Review: “The Silver Linings Playbook” by Matthew Quick

9780374532284_p0_v1_s260x420As you might assume, for as woefully behind I am on my reading, I am equally or more behind on my movies.  So sure the movie adaptation of this book has already come and gone starring the always delightful Jennifer Lawrence and the frequently shmucky Bradley Cooper, but that doesn’t mean I’ve seen it.  In fact, I do want to watch it – because Jennifer Lawrence is always delightful.  But to properly skewer a book-to-movie adaptation (my thoughts on TFIOS still brewing) I should probably read the book first.

The unnecessarily named Pat Peoples is a troubled thirty-something who, in the breakdown of his marriage, finds himself finally leaving a psychiatric institution in Maryland (read: “the bad place”).  He heads home to his parents basement in New Jersey where his mother dotes on him nervously but lovingly and his father pretty much ignores everyone that doesn’t play for the Eagles.  Pat has no understanding of just how long he has been in the bad place but assumes it couldn’t be more than a few months and he is prepared to do what it takes to bring “the apart time” (read: divorce? Separation? Restraining order?) from his wife Nikki to an end.  His goals focus on being the best husband he can, to mold himself into the likeness of Nikki’s ideal man.  He works out to look like the husband she wants.  He goes to therapy to present the stable husband she wants.

What he eventually learns through Eagle’s games with his Indian therapist, long runs with his equally “off” acquaintance Tiffany, complete mental breakdowns in the form of Kenny G, and preparation for a modern dance competition he is being blackmailed into, is that “the apart time” is not what it seems.  That indeed four years have passed and his wife Nikki is not as angelic as he imagines her to be, the wife his devotion wants her to be.

I was initially drawn to this book because I had completely forgotten about the movie and saw that Quick had a newer book out with an interesting cover.  But then I remembered that I wanted to see the movie and here we are.  I was doing a lot of commuting last week so I actually listened to the CD book which was fantastic with the exception of the second disc which was completely scratched.  Thankfully the library had the print version available and I was able to read the middle part.  It really was a touching, funny story and with Pat as the narrator, you have a clear insight into his thought process.  It is especially endearing to know his thoughts because you fully understand just how hard he is working to become the best husband he can be for when “apart time” ends.

I would strongly encourage this book.  Jury is still out on Bradley Cooper.

Review: “The Selection” by Kiera Cass

20140616-225515-82515657.jpgI have a certain, girlish confession: I completely chose this book because the trilogy features girls in really pretty princess dresses on the cover. I routinely judge a book by a cover and the pretty got me on this one. I was of course displeased by reading the back cover. Great, I thought, more stories about a girl with two love interests in a post-apocalyptic society. Cue the werewolves (read: obvious dig at “Twilight”).

This particular society is the futuristic idea of the USA, or at least what used to be the USA. China went into battle against the USA and eventually took them over in the Third World War thusly creating the American States of China.  The American people were used for labor and eventually revolted with the help of other nations in the Fourth World War. What was left was recreated into the new nation of Illea.

The society is now made of eight castes, stations based on financial means and the great predictor of future welfare.  Born as a Five, America Singer is a talented musician who works hard to help support her family.  What they do not know is that she has secretly been in love with Aspen, a Six.  A finances-based argument leaves America without Aspen as he refuses to believe that they can overcome their caste differences and lead a happy life.  It is also at this time that the Palace announces that the Selection will begin: a contest in which 35 you women of an appropriate age will be selected to join life at the Palace in the hopes of marrying Prince Maxon.  America fills out the form simply to appease her mother, doubting that anyone would choose a lowly Five.  Much to everyone’s surprise, she is selected to join the other 34 in working to earn Maxon’s heart.

What I especially enjoyed about this book was the characterization of Prince Maxon.  He could be written as a spoiled playboy and indeed, if this were a true story, probably would be.  But he seems to care for each of the young women and does his best to make each feel special or rather, recognize that they each have their own unique specialty.  I also very much enjoy Cass’s description of the opulence of the world of a One.

Thing I don’t like? The constant reference in YA literature to post-apocalyptic societies in which no one has a say in their future and are instead born into their lives instead of creating their own.  You get me, right?

The New Adult

In the article “Against YA” by Ruth Graham for Slate.com, Graham argues that adults should not be reading young adult fiction as they are no longer in their adolescence and therefore cannot relate to the characters and that much of YA fiction is dedicated to escapism and always leads to happy endings.  These are fair points to make.  I am not a teenager.  In fact I had a perfectly average dystopian-less, predominantly death-less, boyfriend-less adolescence.  I should not be able to relate to the characters in YA books.  My life is also not a constant tragedy that I must struggle on a daily basis to overcome.  I also have a pretty high vocabulary and do my best to not punctuate my sentences with “like.”  Graham your point is made; I am not 17.

I am however a reader of YA fiction and Graham can pretty well just accept that.  Just because I am no longer a teenager does not mean that I cannot see the inherent value of YA books not only in the lives of others but in my life in particular.  She specific attacks the alarmingly large fan base of the John Green masterpiece that is “The Fault in Our Stars.”  The story is about two relatively average young pups who fall in love despite their age and constant threat of their respective cancers killing them.  She says “These are the books, like “The Fault in Our Stars,” that are about real teens doing real things, and that rise and fall not only on the strength of their stories but, theoretically, on the quality of their writing. These are the books that could plausibly be said to be replacing literary fiction in the lives of their adult readers. And that’s a shame.”  A shame?  That adults are reading?

My problem (besides attacking TFIOS) is that she resorts to old ideas of the literary canon.  During my senior seminar course at my undergraduate college, the professor drew a see-saw on the chalkboard and asked us each to come up and draw where we would fall.  The farther to the right you were, the more concrete your ideas on the canon were.  With a stricter idea of the canon, you believe that there are very certain books that should be considered “high literature” – Shakespeare, Dickinson, Thoreau, Hemingway, etc.  Dead white folk, I would joke, but it’s true.  Those writers are oft considered the epitome of literature, the very standard for which all other literature should aspire to touch.

“It’s the thrill of growing up. But the YA and ‘new adult’ boom may mean fewer teens aspire to grown-up reading, because the grown-ups they know are reading their books. When I think about what I learned about love, relationships, sex, trauma, happiness, and all the rest—you know, life—from the extracurricular reading I did in high school, I think of John Updike and Alice Munro and other authors whose work has only become richer to me as I have grown older, and which never makes me roll my eyes.”  Updike and Munroe?  Yes, considered part of the canon, without debate. But let’s focus on one line in particular:

“…authors whose work has only become richer to me as I have grown older…”

The canon therefore is made up of works based on age.  Is perhaps the problem with modern YA fiction not that she cannot relate to teenagers but that the work itself does not yet have a certain vintage appeal?  She says that certain books that she had read as a teenager still resonate with her today.  She would not have read the YA fiction of today and waited 20 years before writing a review; they do not yet have 20 years to simmer in her mind.  We cannot be too quick to judge what will stand as a lasting piece of work and what will fade away as soon as the summer blockbuster leaves the theatre.

When Graham was growing up, all she wanted to do was read like an adult and so was in a big hurry to clamor over to the adult fiction shelves.  I can completely relate to this.  I have no idea what the appropriate young adult fiction of the early 2000’s was because I was busy with the latest John Grisham legal thriller.  If I read YA, it was 1960-70’s young adult literature including Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden (leftover from and still resonating with my mother).  I for one did read “The Giver” by Lois Lowry, the YA “blockbuster” (give it time, it will be) from the early ’90’s and I hated it then.  It didn’t make me weep the way “The Fault in Our Stars” did.  It didn’t make me think about life and it’s motivations the way “13 Reasons Why” did.  It mostly made me hate what would become the post-apocalyptic teen dystopian genre 20 years before it happened.  What does that say about me?

Oh, and that see-saw from undergrad?  I was on the swing set to the left of it.  If literature is meant to make us think then with what right does someone have to judge how deep or intricate or moving or inspiring my thoughts are?  “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte makes me think.  “Othello” by William Shakespeare makes me think.  “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins makes me think.

I went ahead and took the time to draw an infographic of the people who truly benefit from reading, whether it be young adult fiction or otherwise:

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Review: “Six Years” by Harlan Coben

sixyearsHere is what I have to say about Harlan Coben: I do not read his books.  I devour them.  I purposely space out reading books he has written because he is such a gripping, original author that I binge-read and neglect basic things like sleeping and moving from the couch.  “Six Years” was, of course, no different.

Jake meets Natalie at an artists retreat; he the writer, she the painter.  They fall in love in one glorious summer before she dumps him and sends out invitations to her forthcoming wedding the very next day.  He watches her marry “some guy” and she makes him promise to leave them alone, to never talk to her or look for her again.  Heartbroken he agrees until six years later when he happens across the obituary for “some guy” she married.  Desperate to see her again and to comfort the unfortunate widow, he flies to the funeral only to learn that the grieving widow has two children with her beloved husband of nearly 20 years.  Also, she’s not Natalie.

The now Professor Jake puts his Internet-savvy to work and learns – – nothing.  Natalie does not exist.  The retreat does not exist.  No one from their brief life together remembers anything about them.  Upon the discovery that nothing he believes in is real, nothing exists, it’s all his imagination, very real armed men attack him in a hungover stupor, severely injuring a student in the process and kidnapping Jake.  In the mid-driving, back of van scuffle, Jake accidentally commits homicide.  Now a man on the run, he remains determined as ever to figure out why someone is trying to kill him, why the past does not seem to exist, and where in the world is Natalie.

My synopsis of the book does not do any of the thrilling words Coben has written justice.  If I tried, I would simply spoil it for you.  There are so many plot twists and cliff-hanging moments that to divulge anything more would unravel the story.  If you are looking for a thrilling writer to engage you in a book, look to any of Coben’s incredible works (and not that Patterson guy).