Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Elite

I am almost embarrassed to say that I read The Elite, a young adult novel by Kiera Cass, in two days. It's the second installment of a series that began with The Selection, which I read and reviewed here. As you'll notice after reading that review and then this one, some of my impressions remain the same, though my overall impression seems to be improved. (I confess, re-reading that review, I seem to be a little harsher on the book than it deserves.)

But why embarrassed, exactly? The Elite has aptly been compared to reality TV. It's about young women vying for the attention of a prince as they compete toward the end goal of becoming his wife and, eventually, the queen of his country. It's like a beauty pageant meets Cinderella. And while this premise calls out to the little romantic girl in each of us (girls), it's a rather silly and shallow idea.

Granted, Cass adds depth to the story through the politics of the world she has created. Her heroine, named America (perhaps this is a callback to the freedoms of life as we know them here in the United States; the story takes place in a future world where the United States no longer exists), comes from a mid-level caste in a society where your caste is your world. America has been fortunate enough to change her caste simply by being selected for the opportunity to win the prince's hand, but questions are raised about those who are not so fortunate and what opportunities for change arise when one is in power, if one dares to take them. So, the story is not quite as much of a guilty pleasure as it initially appears on the surface.

I like the characters. They are developed and alive, even minor ones, and the major ones have concerns I can identify with. Perhaps I like the characters too much because, like America, I can't decide which boy she should end up with. And here's where the story gets annoying. Love triangles are entirely too common in young adult fiction. Maybe that's on purpose, to reflect the choices real teenagers are faced with. But in this case, the exciting possibilities of falling in love with a prince are overshadowed by America's lingering feelings regarding her former love, a guard who works at the palace. Both are great choices, even though one is poor. I like that the author makes it clear that one is just as good as the other as far as love goes, that being rich doesn't make one a better choice than the other. But the fact that there is a choice at all when America has willingly submitted to this process of trying to get the prince to love her, saps some of the excitement. It's dangerous, not fun, and though the book acknowledges this, I just couldn't shake the feeling of wrongness about it.

I'd hate to SPOIL anything, and I won't, but if you are at all worried, don't read the following line. America's dilemma ends up better than I expected it to at the end of this book. I'm not 100 percent happy with it, but I'm still interested in the story and anticipating Book 3. With my feelings on this book pulled every which way, it averages out to an enjoyable three-star read.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Icons is my first Margaret Stohl novel. She writes young adult fiction and is the coauthor of the Beautiful Creatures series, the first book of which is now a movie (I didn't read Beautiful Creatures, but I saw the movie and was not too impressed; then again, I'm not really into witches and should have known better).

Icons is quite a different type of story, though still paranormal. Dol and Ro are not normal teenagers, and it's not just because they no longer live in a normal world. When they were infants, everything changed on The Day, when the Lords invaded from space and killed everything in 13 major cities across the globe. The survivors knew there was no hope in resistance. But Dol and Ro are special. They have abilities no one else has, abilities that feel more like curse than blessing. Dol feels everyone's emotions, and on Ro comes a rage so strong he becomes an unstoppable physical force. Only Dol can calm him. They've managed to stay out of site of the Icons and the Lords so far. But the truth of their existence is about to be revealed, and they will have to face their fears and the power of their emotions.

I enjoyed this book for the most part. The setting, though post-apocalyptic, manages to be different than what I've read before (though, granted, not much detail is given), and the paranormal powers are surprisingly (since so many books use them) unique in their presentation and use. I was intrigued about what Dol, who narrates, could or would do with her power, and information about her power is strung along little by little to pull the reader deeper into the story. Between chapters there are "classified memos" that relate to what's going on, often revealing an outside perspective to Dol's. Sometimes the memos' significance doesn't become clear until later. The story is interesting, particularly as new significant characters are added, broadening the plot.

But there was something lacking for me at the end. (Minor SPOILERS may follow.) I felt like there was the story and there was the ending: two separate things that didn't mesh well together. From a character development standpoint, it was fine. Dol got from one point to another, and all the connections were fairly clear. What wasn't as clear was the plot resolution. Not enough clues were provided on that front early on. The end just happened, and not everything necessarily followed from what had transpired earlier. Sorry for being vague, but I really try to avoid spoilers. So, there was that, and (this might be the SPOILER you want to avoid), I didn't like how the romance ended up. There's a love triangle, and I'm not sure Dol picks the right boy. It didn't make the best sense to me. I wasn't convinced of it working out that way, and I didn't understand it. So, the ending was a little rough for me.

I didn't have issues with the morals of the book, though no great attempt seems to have been made to discuss issues of morality. The biggest question raised is whether to risk lives for a chance to do greater good, but even that is not satisfactorily answered. Overall, the morality of the book is neutral, but there's nothing too offensive.

Other than that, I thought the story was unique and enjoyable and a worthy three-star beginning to a new series. Icons was published this past spring. Idols (Icons #2) will be published next summer.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Quick Overview of Seven Young Adult Books I Read This Summer

The following young adult novels were all released this year, most of them this summer.

The Eternity Cure (Four Stars): I haven't read a lot of vampire stories, but I read the first one in this series, The Immortal Rules, by Julie Kagawa (author of The Iron Fey series), because it sounded intriguing and clean (a big must for me). I like that it leaves sex out of the story and deals with questions of right and wrong. The Eternity Cure is the second installment, and it doesn't disappoint. Allison is a young vampire who must team up with those who want to kill her in order to rescue her sire, the vampire who saved her and taught her how to survive this cruel world. She wonders, is there any hope left for the humanity in her, or will she be overcome by the monster within? Definitely worth reading if you like more edgy stuff but don't like the mixed morals that often come too.

The Testing (Four Stars): This novel, by Joelle Charbonneau, is so similar, in some ways, to The Hunger Games that some are calling it a rip-off. I think it's different enough to deserve its own credit. After all, The Hunger Games was not the first book to pit kids against one another. In The Testing, outstanding students are selected to be Tested for a chance to go to the University and get the best jobs in a post-apocalyptic/dystopian world. Cia is thrilled to be part of this opportunity, until she receives warnings from her father and others about what may be in store for her. Is there a darker reason that no one who's passed through a Testing is supposed to remember what transpired? And what happens to those who don't make it? If you are a die-hard Hunger Games fan, you will probably compare too much, but if you never got on the Hunger Games bandwagon, try this.

Reboot (Four Stars): Wren is a 178. That means she was dead for that many minutes before she was brought back as a Reboot, a weapon and a prisoner, considered less than human by the soldiers who give her orders. Dead the longest, she is also the least human, the most weapon. People fear her. She does what she's told and believes she's nearly incapable of emotion. Why, then, is the new 22, a number so small he's practically human, so intriguing to her? Reboot, by Amy Tintera, delves into what it means to be human, and it carries many of the same themes as dystopian novels (though I wouldn't consider this to be one). Still, though similar thematically to what's out there, it has a unique plot premise and is an enjoyable read.

Pivot Point (Three Stars): Addison is a member of a small community where everyone has a special mind power. Hers is to be able to see the two diverging paths a choice could lead her on and choose accordingly. But now the biggest choice of her life so far is upon her. Her parents are getting divorced, and she gets to choose whom she wants to live with: her mom within the hidden confines of their paranormal community or her dad out in the world where everyone is normal and no one uses powers in everyday life or even knows about them. In order to decide, Addison will have to go weeks into each future. The problem is, when she's there in her mind, it feels like she's there for real, and she might not be able to tell the difference. And then there are complications within each choice, decisions that will affect friends and people she's never even met...and of course the choice to erase from her mind the memories of her mental excursion into the future, once she's made her decision. How does one choose between parents and loves and evils?

I thought the premise of Pivot Point, by Kasie West, was a neat idea, and I really got into the book, especially as it wound toward the conclusion. It has a little bit of an Inception vibe to it: dream within a dream...what is real? It's a bit darker than I was expecting, and that's probably why I gave it only three stars when I read it earlier this summer.

Reached (Three Stars): This is the conclusion to Ally Condie's Matched trilogy. I enjoyed the dystopian series, though I didn't find the plot to be quite as intriguing as that of some other dystopian novels I've read, hence the three-star rating. In this third book (and I wouldn't recommend reading any further if you haven't read the other two yet and plan to; SPOILERS possible), Cassia is still undecided about the two boys she loves, but the three of them are scattered across the Society, each playing a different role in the overthrow of the Society and the beginning of The Rising. Cassia works underground for the Archivists, treasuring contraband pieces of writing. Ky is a pilot. Xander is a Medic. But a new form of the Plague causes more chaos than anybody could have dreamed, resting the hope for a better future on shaky ground.

There isn't just one reason I can pin down as to why this series wasn't outstanding to me. The love triangle annoyed me because both guys are perfectly good choices, and I hated that one of them would be disappointed and that Cassia wouldn't just make up her mind. Granted, she's more decided in this book than in the other two. Also, I thought the main characters were rather passive. They don't do anything particularly impressive. They are simply in the right place at the right time. Ky and Xander are more heroes than Cassia is and get their fair share of the spotlight, yet the central character really is Cassia, and all she can do is sort data. It's just kind of blase. Still, it's a popular series for a reason. The world is complex, and the way the Society functions and controls people is interesting.

In the After (Four Stars): In this post-apocalyptic novel, by Demitria Lunetta, the population has been nearly wiped out by an alien-looking species that's rather zombie-like in presentation. But unlike zombies, they are super fast with super hearing, and if you make even the tiniest noise, they descend as a pack and eat you to death. After three years, Amy is a seasoned survivor. She knows how to get food. She knows how to stay safe. She even has a companion, a little girl she found and took home and calls Baby, communicating through signing. She hasn't spoken aloud in years, and she's seen just enough people to know that she and Baby are better off alone. But everything Amy thought she knew about the After is about to change. I thought this was a particularly clever and well-thought-out book, even though I did anticipate the ending. The book is suspenseful with just enough mystery and clues to keep you guessing. Well written and fascinating.

Twinmaker (Three Stars): In Sean Williams's dystopian future, Clair and her friends daily go to school across the globe and can visit any place they wish in a matter of minutes. Technology can produce anything they want automatically per their specifications. Who needs to own possessions when you can get new ones exactly the same or better, if you wish, anytime you want? This instantaneous gratification is made possible by a technology that d-mats (dematerializes) objects, including people, and produces them exactly as they were in new locations. The one rule is that people must rematerialize exactly as they were, so everyone believes Improvement (a circulating note that says you can improve your looks by following specific instructions in d-mat) is just a prank...until Clair's friend Libby tries it and appears to succeed. But Libby is different after, and Clair's determination to find out why is about to d-mat her entire world.

I liked the concept. The suspense and mystery were interesting. I found the final revelations and explanations to be a little nonsensical, a little wibbly-wobbly or timey-wimey, as the Doctor (Doctor Who) might say. The story didn't come to a strong, believable resolution for me. There were logic gaps I couldn't make sense of in my mind. But getting there is half the fun, and this is quite a good journey.