Book Review: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

Title: Masque of the Red Death
Author: Bethany Griffin
Series: Masque of the Red Death, Book 1
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Hardcover: 319 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Buy from The Book Depository

Everything is in ruins.

A devastating plague has decimated the population, and those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles around them.

So what does Araby Worth have to live for?

Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery makeup . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all.

But in the depths of the club—in the depths of her own despair—Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club, and Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does.

And Araby may find not just something to live for, but something to fight for—no matter what it costs her.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This was a huge hype book when it came out, so I was excited to (finally) pick up a copy and read it. I enjoy Edgar Allan Poe’s short story that this is loosely based upon and was interested to see what sort of world Griffin would create around that idea — especially one that would hold up for an entire novel and its sequel.

Masque of the Red Death is basically a post-apocalyptic dystopia rather loosely set in Victorian times, with some steampunk elements to it; for example, Araby and her friend April ride in steam-powered carriages, created because horses died from the plague that killed off most of the population in the city. While Poe’s short story focused on the Prince Prospero’s parties and how he locked everyone up to escape the plague, this story mostly focuses on outside Prince Prospero’s castle and what’s happening while he hides from the city’s problems. We get to briefly meet him and hear about him because April is his niece and Araby is the daughter of the scientist who invented a mask filtration system that allows the rich to go outside and survive.

Read more

Book Review: Legend by Marie Lu

Legend by Marie Lu.jpgTitle: Legend
Author: Marie Lu
Series: Legend, Book 1
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Hardcover: 305 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I remember when Legend came out and people were raving about how awesome it was. The hype was so much that when Marie Lu went to the LA Festival of Books to sell signed copies, I stopped by her booth just so I could read it and see what the raving was all about. Of course, I’m terrible at reading books right away since my to-read list is ridiculously long, so now, years later, I am finally getting to see what the hype is all about.

Legend is yet another YA dystopia, this time in a world with a militaristic/war focus rather than an we-are-a-perfect-society focus. People who are born into wealthy families are groomed for the military so they can help in the Republic’s fight against the Colonies. June is a military prodigy — she’s smart, athletic, and can think outside the box, and is being groomed for a distinguished military career. She goes on the hunt for Day — who is also smart, athletic, and can think outside the box — the Republic’s most wanted criminal who grew up in a poor district in the Republic.

When Day allegedly commits a crime that hits home for June, she goes on the hunt for him to bring him to justice. What ends up happening is that they both learn a little bit more about what’s really going on behind the closed doors of the Republic.

This book is just straight enjoyable. I love that Lu kept it simple in terms of creating her world: no factions or groups for people to be sorted into, just poor and rich; military and civilian. Because of this, I think this book gives quite an amazing commentary on society in general in terms of how poverty is viewed and taken advantage of, and how people suffer under such strict hierarchical structures.

The conflicts within this world are revealed slowly — no information dumps!!! I enjoyed that I slowly got introduced to the complexities of the government and of what went on behind closed doors. I feel like this is the main reason why I enjoyed Legend. There’s an inherent conflict and pull in trying to figure out what exactly is going on with this dystopia — when the plot needed to stop for character development, I was pulled forward by what I wanted to know about this new world.

However, this book is fairly predictable — I don’t think there was one twist that I didn’t see coming. Also, I have a pet peeve about people being in a life-or-death situation, yet romance seems to be a priority. I get the whole young adult romance angle, but it bothers me, especially from characters who are supposed to be super intelligent, even if they are young.

With that said, I still thoroughly enjoyed the narrative of the book. It’s perfect amounts of tragic and heartwarming and I am very much looking forward to reading the sequels to see what exactly is going on with all the war stuff. I’d recommend this book for any dystopia lover. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it’s certainly better than many other dystopias out there.

Book Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The maze Runner by James Dashner.jpgTitle: The Maze Runner
Author: James Dashner
Series: The Maze Runner, Book 1
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Hardcover: 384 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone.

Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive.

Everything is going to change.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

Remember. Survive. Run.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This book started interesting me, of course, when the movie came out. I usually staunchly refuse to see any book-based movies before I read the book, but my parents broke me down when they marketed going to the movies as a “family event,” so I didn’t get to reading it beforehand, which meant it got pushed way down my to-read list. When the Pokemon Go challenge came up and had a hyped-up book category, I decided to finally get this off my to-read list and see how the book compared to its film version.

My first reaction is that it’s different in surprising ways. I won’t ruin it for people who have yet to read it, but the problem the way they solve the maze in the novel is a bit more complex and the ending is just the littlest bit different. The characters also had a bit of a different flavor to them, but I think that’s true for anything when your imagination is supplying interpretations rather than an actor. The one character whose introduction and personality is remarkably different is Teresa, which I thought pretty interesting. In the movie, she’s fierce to the point of being rabid when she’s introduced — in the movie, she’s calm and very rarely loses her temper. I’m not sure what this says about cinema portrayal of females or the people who adapted the book for the film, but it’s an interesting difference.

Regardless of the changes, I feel the same way about this book as I do about the movie: It’s fine. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it, and the plot is mostly interesting, though I hope future books provide a lot more growth and development from the characters. The way things were set up in this first book, it was mostly about discovering who they were themselves, so they remained mostly stagnant throughout. Without having read the sequels, it’s not something I can firmly recommend, but I am looking forward to reading the sequels — hopefully they deliver.

Book Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Wither by Lauren DeStefano.jpgTitle: Wither
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Series: The Chemical Garden, Book 1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Hardcover: 358 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library Overdrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children.

When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement. Her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next, and Rhine is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape–before her time runs out?

Together with one of Linden’s servants, Gabriel, Rhine attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This came out during the dystopia hype (which actually might still be going on, but anyway), so I didn’t really have any high hopes for how good it would be — I tend to be cautious towards really popular books, since I’ve been burned a few times by following the hype. :p However, even years later, it still seemed interesting to me, so I decided to at least skim it and see what it was about before outright deciding not to read it.

I have to say, Wither is a lot better than I expected it to be. I think there are a few logical holes as to how a society like this would have developed from the problem of short lifespans, but that aside, it’s actually quite a well thought out story about a girl in a desperate situation who tries to win back her freedom. The story itself dragged a bit, but I’m chalking that up to it being the first of a series and hopefully now that the worldbuilding is done, we can get into some really in-depth, complex looks at the characters and the society they live in within the next books of the series.

On the bright side however, the characters are well done and I loved learning more about them and learning how their lives fit into this strange world as a whole, and what their attitudes said about the world they’re living in. I also thought that DeStefano did an amazing job portraying Rhine’s internal conflict, where she needed to show that she was buying into her new life in order to win her freedom, but then felt guilty for maybe buying into it a little too much. Very, very well done on those counts.

While it’s not on a must-read list or even a definitely recommend list, it is interesting and I definitely want to make a point to read the sequels to see how this series turns out. If it sounds good to you, then I will say that I enjoyed myself, so maybe you will too.

Audiobook Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell

Title: Animal Farm
Author: George Orwell
Narrator: Ralph Cosham
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 3 hours, 11 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

In this satire of the Russian Revolution, Mr. Jones’s Manor Farm is transformed into Animal Farm, a democratic society proclaiming All Animals Are Created Equal. After totalitarian rule is re-established, the reality becomes But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others.

Overall Rating: 4/5 

For all the controversy surrounding this novel, I was surprised by how short it actually is. However, for all its lack of length, it sure does pack an important message.

The allegory was a bit didactic for me — I felt like I was being beat over the head with the message, but I haven’t read an allegory yet that hasn’t made me feel that way, so that’s just a genre preference. The message is worthwhile and, scarily enough, seems all too real. As always, Orwell makes a scathing political commentary while still telling an entertaining story. Despite the rather factual narration, I still felt some emotional connection to the characters and was saddened and horrified in all the right parts.

I thought the narration was fantastic. Cosham played to the animal characters, adjusting his speech to sound like the different animals. He also told it in a storyteller voice, which usually I don’t like, but it fit so perfectly with the way Animal Farm is written that I found myself enjoying his rendition. (And after all, the full title is Animal Farm: A Fairy Tale.)

I recommend this book for everyone to read. It’s a classic, it’s banned, it gives an important message, and it’s pretty short, so there’s hardly an excuse not to read it. I didn’t think I was going to like it, but I found it to be interesting and enjoyable.

Audiobook Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Narrator: Carolyn McCormick
Publisher: Scholastic Audio
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 11 hours, 11 minutes
Series: The Hunger Games, Book 1
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

Overall Rating: 5/5

This is one novel that deserves the popularity it enjoys. Wow, is this book good!

The main thing that makes this such a favorite is the suspense that Collins has woven in. I could not stop listening to this book! I kept trying to find more things to clean around the house to justify listening to it for “just another hour.” Of course, that hour turned into two hours, which turned into three hours — needless to say, I finished this one very quickly and my house was sparkling for a couple of days. There is never any part where the reader’s emotions are allowed to rest. Like Katniss, I was always on edge, waiting for her next challenge, waiting for the next bad thing to happen. This makes it a fast read. Also, since it’s told through Katniss’s eyes and the storytelling is excellent, I was completely involved in the story from start to finish.

Haymitch is by far my favorite character, with Katniss being a close second. I thought all the characters were wonderfully done. I got a sense of each of them without being told exactly who they were, what they did, and what I should think of them. Collins lets us draw our own conclusions by giving their personalities through Katniss’s eyes and letting the characters’ actions speak for themselves. I think this envelops all of the book, actually. She doesn’t dumb down the writing just because it’s young adult. It’s complex, teaches lessons without being didactic, and (better yet) doesn’t talk down to the reader.

Another thing I appreciate is the realism Collins brings to The Hunger Games. Problems don’t magically disappear and there aren’t any forced happily-ever-afters. It’s violent, brutal, and dark. Those who are squeamish will have a hard time with this story, but I think it’s worth it. For one thing, the violence isn’t there for shock value, as is the case for some novels, unfortunately. Rather, it’s a statement about the government of Panem and what these people are forced to live with. I like that the characters are forced to work through their problems and actually deal with issues. It makes for an interesting story, the characters are allowed to grow and change, and it reflects the real world. Problems don’t just disappear.

The narration of the audiobook is also excellent. McCormick is so talented at infusing her words with emotions and getting the pacing exactly right. The voices for each of her characters are easy to distinguish, even if you’re listening to it in the background. Her rendition is so well done, in fact, that I found myself pausing in my chores to just listen to her tell the story.

I highly recommend this to everyone. Yes, there is violence, yes it is dark, but these are parts of the message The Hunger Games holds. This is one book worth reading.

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: McClelland and Stewart
Paperback: 324 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

It is the world of the near future, and Offred is a Handmaid in the home of the Commander and his wife. She is allowed out once a day to the food market, she is not permitted to read, and she is hoping the Commander makes her pregnant, because she is only valued if her ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she was an independent woman, had a job of her own, a husband and child. But all of that is gone now…everything has changed.

 

My Review:

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. Honestly, from my friends’ descriptions of the book I was expecting something completely different. I was expecting the world Offred lives in to be openly violent and brutal rather than one filled with subtle brutality, psychological warfare, and religious control. In my opinion, the world Margaret Atwood created is frighteningly believable.

There were many subjects dealt with in this relatively small book, and I think they were all handled skillfully. The Handmaid’s Tale deals with the power of religion, woman’s place in society, man’s place in society, and a struggle to reconcile personal freedom with the survival of people as a whole. It offers a lot of food for thought and, like I said, it’s relatively small; a little over 300 pages, which is amazing, considering all the subjects covered.

The best and most chilling part for me is that the narrator still remembers what it was like to live in the “old world,” where women could hold jobs, marry whomever they fell in love with, and be free. The flashbacks to her life as a free woman added a lot to the horror of how the world is now structured in the novel. My favorite part is “Historical Notes” added at the end (these are necessary to the novel — read them, don’t skip!), which gave the novel a hopeful tone. This, I appreciated, because it shows that humans are capable of rising above an overbearing, immoral government, no matter how hard they try to oppress people.

Overall, I would recommend everybody to read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I know quite a few people don’t like it, but I really do think that it offers interesting subject matter told in an entertaining way. This is one dystopia I’m definitely glad to have read.

Overall rating: 4/5