Archive | December 2013

Warm Bodies

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Warm Bodies
4 out of 5 stars

Quotes: “Nora, this is R. R . . . Nora.” Nora stares at me like I’m Sasquatch, the Chupacabra, maybe a unicorn. “Um . . . nice to meet you . . . R.”

For Readers Who:
(1) Have read Romeo and Juliet. Warm Bodies is a reworking of my least favorite of Shakespeare’s plays. Zombies and Shakespeare? Trust me. It works.

(2) Have the patience to ponder deep metaphysical questions. Although the book was made into a pretty awesome movie, the novel explores themes that I don’t think most teenagers would really understand. Quite honestly, I think I need to re-read it to fully comprehend what the book was doing because there were some big picture, “what is life?,” “why are we here?” questions into which the book delved.

Review:
I did not anticipate the kind of book that this was going to be. I saw the movie and really enjoyed it. I’m not a big zombie fan, but I found the humor of the film really endearing so I gave the book a chance.

I admit that the book is funny, but it is also a whirlwind existential journey. Marion rewrites Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet within the framework of a zombie apocalypse. The zombie “R” (he can’t remember anything more of his name) falls in love with the human Julie. Yes, Marion could have been more subtle with the choice of names. We get it: R and Julie are stand ins for Romeo and Juliet.

R and Julie are “star-cross’d lovers” because, well, he’s dead, she’s not, and both of their kind wants to kills the other. Sounds familiar, right? We could just call one side the Montagues and the other side the Capulets. Where Marion breaks with Shakespeare is in his portrayal of death. What makes Romeo and Juliet my least favorite Shakespearean play is that the deaths of the two teenagers “solved” all their families’ problems. This is from the Prologue of the play:

“A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove…”

Marion takes the opposite approach to life and death: what if dying is the problem and living is the solution? Both R and Julie’s worlds are devoid of life. R, obviously, is a zombie, but Julie and the other uninfected humans live jammed into a football stadium, which R refers to as nothing more than an “ossuary” (a building which holds the remains of the dead).

Unlike Romeo and Juliet, and Julie’s boyfriend Perry (who seeks out death early in the book because he no longer sees the point in living), R and Julie want to live. Marion rewrites Shakespeare’s play, revising it from a romantic epic of two lovers’ deaths, to a celebration of the redemptive power of life and of love.

Verdict:
If Shakespeare would have shared Marion’s approach to life and love, there may have been a chance that I would not have loathed Romeo and Juliet when I was first assigned to read it at 14. Although teenagers will likely still enjoy Warm Bodies (it is, after all, still a zombie romance), older readers who take the time to understand the literary parallels and philosophical questions will be those who will get the most out of this book.

Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky #1)

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Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky #1)
Rating 5 out of 5 stars

Quotes:
(1) “She knew how to put one foot in front of the other even when every step hurt. And she knew there was pain in the journey, but there was also great beauty.”

(2) “And in life, at least in her new life, chances were the best she could hope for. They were like her rocks. Imperfect and surprising and maybe better in the long run than certainties. Chances, she thought, were life.”

For Readers Who:
(1) Enjoy slow-building romances. This is not a love-at-first sight plot.

(2) Like post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction.

(3) Don’t mind third-person alternating narrative. The novel switches between Aria and Perry’s points of view. I really like this, especially since there has been a recent trend in YA fiction to later publish separate novels or novellas from the point of view of the romantic interest. Why not just write the book in which we get to see the romance develop from both sides? It’s like cutting out the middleman in the equation.

Review:
The Under the Never Sky series is, in my opinion, the most imaginative in the last couple of years. My mom and I debated this very topic (I know–I live an enviously adventurous life…), and we both came to the same conclusion: while we also love Divergent, Veronica Rossi’s plot and writing style are probably the better of the two.

Okay, hold up on the public stoning. I am not arguing that one series is better than the other. What I am trying to say is that Under the Never Sky scores serious points for creativity. The novel is set in the future. The basic premise of the plot is that Earth’s environment had become uninhabitable. A select few families were lucky enough to live in compounds that protected them from the outside world. The rest of the population had to fend for themselves.

Fast forward a couple hundred of years. The two groups are still living separately, but both groups have begun to evolve in different ways. Now, this is not a hard core science fiction book. The thing I found so spectacular about Rossi is that she manages to incorporate elements from science fiction without making it generically science fiction. Under the Never Sky is very much a YA romance. It is this unexpected combination of futuristic, sci-fi-esque, “us vs. them,” Romeo and Juliet romance that is really rather genius.

I also enjoyed the narration; Rossi alternates between the third person viewpoints of Aria (who grew up in the sheltered society) and Perry (who grew up on the “outside”). However, I hope that the success of this novel doesn’t start a trend in which every author narrates his or her book this way. The reason the alternating viewpoints work, in this case, is because Aria and Perry have grown up so differently that they see the world, both literally and metaphorically, from completely different views. For instance, Aria has never seen snow and asks Perry what it’s like. When the narrative changes to his point of view, Perry can’t understand how first, you could live and never see snow, and second, how you describe snow to someone. Under the Never Sky is a Romeo and Juliet story, of sorts, but the plot doesn’t follow “Two households both alike in dignity.” Perry and Aria’s worlds are not at all alike.

Verdict:
Under the Never Sky revolves around a clash of two worlds, but Rossi’s use of elements from different genres does anything but clash. The plot is unique, the characters are likable, and the narration enhances the theme of a romance overcoming differences. With the final book in the trilogy coming out in January 2014, pick up Under the Never Sky and delve into Rossi’s universe.

Glimpse (Zellie Wells #1)

Glimpse by Stacey Wallace Benefiel

Glimpse (Zellie Wells #1)
4.5 out of 5 stars

Quotes: “Since we’re nearing the ever so wonderful state sanctioned standardized tests, there are thirty extra vocabulary words this week. Apparently, none of you is to be left behind.”

For Readers Who:

(1) Don’t mind a bit of teenage angst. Wait, hear me out. I am usually averse to all forms of angst (I still shudder at my experience with Holden Caulfield), but this book spins the situation in a humorous and quite lovable way.

(2) Enjoy clever plots. Benefiel doesn’t just stick a supernatural creature into a human world. Her books are far more creative.

Review: Glimpse is one of those books whose concept I would have never been able to come up with on my own. I love books that fit into that category because I read a lot of plots from many, many books.

Plot aside, what is most memorable about Glimpse is its humor and dynamic characters. When I mentioned that it was an “angsty” book, I did not mean that Zellie had the kind of angst of Holden Caulfield (gag). She isn’t having an existential dilemma. As she journeys through high school with her best friend Claire and her little sister Melody, she tries to attract the attention of the boy who always seems to catch her eye, Avery, without looking like too much of a spaz in the process.

The book’s humor comes from the sheer relatability of Zellie’s awkward encounters with the boy she likes. She may have visions, but she is still a teenager, and her inner dialogue and her interactions with Claire and Melody are memorable because they are genuine, sometimes self-deprecating, but (most importantly) fueled by their love for one another.

The supernatural element in this book is original and exciting. I will not say more, because I do not want to spoil it. However, Zellie’s visions are just the harbinger of her supernatural power.

Verdict: While this is a book about a girl with extraordinary powers, Zellie’s appeal is her very ordinariness. Her relationships with her best friend and sister are the anchor of this novel and are at the heart of its humor. While Glimpse is somewhat angsty, in the sense that Zellie is rendered as a genuine and believable 16 year old girl, it is not annoying because her inner dialogue is so funny.

Darkness Watching (Darkworld #1)

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Darkness Watching (Darkworld #1)
3 out of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

For Readers Who:
(1) Are willing commit to a series. This book leaves the reader with many unanswered questions.
(2) Don’t need for a plot to revolve around romance.
(3) Enjoy reading about fictional worlds populated by demons (in some ways, this book reminded me of Rachel Vincent’s Soul Screamers series).

Review:
I’m torn about how to review this book. The series has a lot of potential and Adams has clearly put a lot of thought into the world she has created. However, I didn’t love this book. 

The hidden world of demons that she creates is an interesting one. However, the plot moves slowly so that we learn hardly anything about it by the end of the novel. Like Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, there are a couple of run ins with creatures from hell. These scenes, which should have read as action-packed, ass-kicking, edge-of-your seat (or wherever you like to read) page turners, instead felt like they were only there to move the plot forward.

I had a similar reaction to the characters. I really, really wanted to love the main character, Ashlyn. She goes to college to study English literature and I went to college to study English literature. You think that I would have had a natural affinity for her. All I can say is that if we had ended up in the same class, we wouldn’t have been friends because she was just plain boring most of the time.

As for her romantic interest, he was more boring than she was, which is kind of an impressive feat. 

Verdict: The plot is slower than it needed to be and the main character sometimes lacked dimension. However, the way in which the book ends promises that the sequel will be far more interesting. Adams’ world-building is what redeems this book, and I will likely continue with this series.