Saturday, May 17, 2014


by Veronica Roth
New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2013.

For the earlier books in the series, a ****spoiler**** warning...

And a link to my reviews of Divergent and Insurgent.

Tris and her friends are still at the Erudite compound after the factionless uprising and the showing of the video that many in Abnegation died to protect. Tobias' mother, Evelyn, has essentially established a dictatorship and forcibly dissolved the factions. Tris wants to get out of the city now that she's seen the video. Meanwhile, a group calling themselves Allegiant - allied to the founders' original intent for the city, including the factions - forms in opposition to Evelyn. Tris doesn't entirely agree with them, but could working with them get her the answers she needs?

Between the hype and how much I enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy, Allegiant had a lot to live up to. There was a lot I enjoyed: Tris and Tobias talk to each other (I was getting annoyed with the non-communication throughout Insurgent), the pages turn fast, and we get to see into Tobias's head as well as Tris's as the first-person narration moves back and forth between them. Unfortunately, I found the reasoning behind the creation of the city and the factions overly simplistic and less than believable. It didn't quite live up to all I had hoped it would be. That being said, I found the ending fitting and would definitely read the series again as a whole; this one just isn't my favorite.

Since I'm posting this many months after the book has come out (and, in fact, several months after I read it) - for any who have read the book and had thoughts on the ending, I thought I'd point you to Veronica Roth's post about why she make a certain choice about the ending. Whether you loved or hated what happened, what she had to say provided a lot of food for thought.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Elizabeth and Hazel

Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock
by David Margolick
New Haven : Yale University Press, c2011.

In September 1957, Central School in Little Rock, Arkansas, was court ordered to integrate. Nine black students were to attend. One of them, Elizabeth Eckford, walked alone and was turned away by National Guardsmen. During her walk, photographers captured her while white students behind. In particular focus was Hazel Massery, face contorted standing just behind Elizabeth in the picture. This is the story of that photograph and how these two women were forever impacted by that day.

David Margolick gives a much broader picture that the one photograph of that day, beginning with brief explanations of how Hazel and Elizabeth reached that point, and continuing with the story of what happened to the Little Rock Nine after they began at Central. While much of the Civil Rights era was before I was born and reads like history to me, both of these women experienced it and are still living, making the issues of race relations and prejudice all the more present and less historical in feel. It's a powerful story and one that leaves a lot to discuss:
  • Should a person be defined by one moment?
  • How would you have reacted as a student, either black or white?
  • Can major breaches like these ever truly heal?
This one will stick with me for a long time.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Bitter Kingdom

by Rae Carson
New York : Greenwillow Books, 2013.

This review for the final book in the trilogy with Girl of Fire and Thorns and The Crown of Embers contains ****spoilers**** for both titles.

Queen Elisa is on the run from Conde Eduardo, who has begun a civil war in her kingdom. Hector, the captain of her guard, has been captured and Elisa, her maid Mara, Belen and Storm will attempt to rescue him.

The first books were truly enjoyable reading, and the final book in the trilogy lived up to my expectations. Elisa is the bearer of a Godstone, and prophecy dictates that she has some great service to perform; she doesn't know what that means, but she strives to make the best decisions and plans that she can for her friends and her country. She has grown much from a princess who was kept in the dark to a more self-assured queen, even if she has moments of questioning her choices and motives. I really liked this fantasy series because Elisa's character is so incredibly human. She's not the damsel in distress and she's not a kickass heroine either, but she weighs her choices, frets sometimes, and always does the best she knows how to do. Because of that, I'm sure I would enjoy revisiting this trilogy in the future.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Black Powder War

by Naomi Novik
New York : Ballantine Books, c2006.

***Spoilers*** for earlier books in the series: His Majesty's Dragon and Throne of Jade.

Will Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire, are suddenly recalled from China by orders from the aerial corp: they are to return by way of Turkey to pick up dragon eggs that Britain sorely needs in their fight against Napoleon. But of course, nothing is ever straightforward in war and political machinations between nations. Meanwhile, Lien is still enraged by her prince's death and is plotting revenge on Temeraire.

I'm continuing my reread of the earlier Temeraire books in an attempt to get caught up on the series, and am thoroughly enjoying revisiting these stories. I read and listened to this one in turns; the audiobooks are read by Simon Vance and excellently so. Perhaps because the majority of the book is a journey (just like the second) or because it was drawn out over several weeks while I listened, I don't like it quite as well as the first two books. The story continues to develop the characters and shows Laurence's evolving views on the treatment of dragons as he and Temeraire continue their travels and conversations.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Diaz
New York : Riverhead Books, c2007.

Oscar is a social misfit; he is interested in all things science fiction, and wants to become the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien. Growing up in Paterson, New Jersey with his tough-as-nails mother and sister, he is luckless in love. The narrator, who calls himself the Watcher, gives us the story not just of Oscar, but also of where he came from and the curse that seems to have followed his family from Trujillo's rule in the Dominican Republic.

This is a difficult book to categorize. It's smart and funny and heartbreaking. It's rawer in language and content than what I tend to read. There are several references to science fictional works and untranslated Spanish terms, neither of which I could really understand without help (thanks to Google translate, I've learned an awful lot of Spanish insults and swears). About the only thing I had in common with Oscar was a love for Tolkien. And yet, I was drawn into the story of this boy very much unlike me, and his family who could not escape a power-hungry dictator. I cared about Oscar and his sister Lola and wanted to see them make good. It's the sort of book I'm hard-pressed to describe an audience for, but one I would recommend for someone who enjoys unique, inventive fiction.

Friday, March 14, 2014

How the Light Gets In

by Louise Penny
New York : Minotaur Books, 2013.

This is - let me see - the ninth book in the fabulous Three Pines/Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. My reviews of previous titles in the series (from newest to oldest) can be found as follows:
At the end of the last book, Jean Guy Beauvoir walked away from Inspector Gamache to follow after his addictions and Chief Superintendent Sylvain Francour. As the Christmas season gets closer, Gamache's department has been completely decimated and only Isabel Lacoste is left standing with him. Meanwhile, Myrna Landers calls from Three Pines when a friend of hers goes missing.

This series has been incredible in the way I've come to know and care about these characters almost as much as friends. The end of The Beautiful Mystery left me incredibly unsettled (should books be getting these reactions out of me?), and I couldn't wait to pick this up and find out what would happen next. Many of the storylines that have been threaded through previous books come to a head in this one, in a way I found incredibly satisfying. I gobbled this up in three days, became invested even when I'd already figured out part of the solution, and found myself swinging from emotional extremes of fear and joy. I wasn't sure Louise Penny could top Bury Your Dead for my all-time favorite in the series, but I do believe she has done so with this one.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Crossing to Safety

by Wallace Stegner
New York : Random House, 1987.

Larry and Sally Morgan. Sid and Charity Lang. One couple from the west, poor and hardworking. The other from the east and rich. Larry and Sid happen to work together at a university in Wisconsin; their wives strike up a friendship, the Morgans are invited over for a party and the rest, as they say, is history.

This is essentially the story of an unlikely friendship between four people, sometimes held together by a shoestring, memories, and the force of Charity's personality, but always dear to all. These are rich characters, likable and maddening, and so completely real. The narrative descriptions are pitch-perfect word pictures that made me wish I could write that (seemingly) effortlessly, and what isn't said is as important as what is.