Friday, May 23, 2014

Review: The One

The One by Kiera Cass
May 6, 2014
Source: Purchased 

The Selection changed America Singer's life in ways she never could have imagined. Since she entered the competition to become the next princess of IllĂ©a, America has struggled with her feelings for her first love, Aspen—and her growing attraction to Prince Maxon. Now she's made her choice . . . and she's prepared to fight for the future she wants.

Find out who America will choose in The One, the enchanting, beautifully romantic third book in the Selection series!

There are some books that have deep meaning and emotional impact. Then there are other books that serve as pure entertainment. The One is definitely the latter.

With The One Kiera Cass has completes a trilogy that is considered a mash-up of The Bachelor and The Hunger Games. The trilogy revolves mainly around one young America Singer, chosen to be brought to the palace to compete in a competition for the Prince's hand in marriage. She leaves behind her former lover, Aspen, and finds herself actually falling for the young Prince. The question of who America ends up with is answered in this final installment, and I am overall happy with the way things turned out.

This world, set in the distant future, has fallen back into a monarchy and a very rigid "caste" system that segregates families into a line of work. For example, America's family is part of the fifth caste that makes up the artistic contribution to society.

To be honest, I had a hard time believing that this system could be in place for so many years without rebellion. To be fair, there are rebels attacking the palace, but I never got a sense that they were a real threat. There were two groups of rebels--Southern and Northern--both with different objectives. I did not find the rebellion to be as big of a threat, and I felt as if there should have been more objection and protests for change.

It is the lack of world building that makes this series seem diluted and watered down. This series is obviously more focused on the romantic aspect, rather than dystopian. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it makes the series feel superficial.

Of course, I have to admit that these books are addicting. They are easy to read, and I actually find America to be a strong protagonist. Sure, she makes stupid mistakes, but I feel as if her actions in The One were more calculated and more mature. She wasn't as rash or reckless as in The Elite. She proved herself as a worthy candidate for Prince Maxon's hand. I also appreciated that the remaining girls got to actually bond. Cat-fights aren't as common in this book, and instead, we see friendships begin to blossom and we get a better idea of what the other girls are like. This was probably my favorite part of the book.

If you haven't read the first book, I do suggest to you give it a chance. Keep in mind, though, that is a far cry from typical dystopians. It reads more like a contemporary romance, but it's what makes the book unique. And addictive. I can see why so many have fallen in love with this series, even if I am not head-over-heels in love with it. The issues previously mentioned became glaringly obvious once I closed the book, but I can still appreciate The One (and The Selection trilogy as a whole) for entertaining me.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
Release: April 8, 2014 
Source: Published 

By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz.
Common enemy, common cause.

When Jael's brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people.

And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love.

But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz ... something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world.

What power can bruise the sky?

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy. 

At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter?

Dreams of Gods and Monsters is the conclusion to a fantasy series, and penned by the incredibly talented Laini Taylor.

I have already voiced my disappointment with Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Despite the issues, I decided to give the sequel a chance based on three huge factors:

Laini Taylor's writing is ABSOLUTELY gorgeous. And addicting. 

The world is fascinating. 

 Karou is a strong and an amazing character (when she isn't mourning/??? Akiva) 

I read the sequel, loved it, and began to eagerly anticipate this final installment. It did not disappoint.

For those who have not read the first book, this series revolves around two star crossed lovers, and a war brewing between Chimera and Seraphim. Karou, a blue haired girl, has been raised by the Chimera Brimstone. He specializes in wishes, and his currency of choice is teeth. Karou helps by traveling through portal doors, until one day, these doors cease working, with only an ominous handprint left behind.

To give any more of the plot would be to spoil parts of the trilogy, so I will just say read the book. And if you did not like it, perhaps give the sequel a chance.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters opens up by introducing readers to a new character named Eliza. She has been haunted by dreams of the apocalypse and the arrival of monsters. In this book, while war is a central plot point, romance does take a more central role. Karou and Avika, the star crossed lovers of this trilogy, are trying to work together to establish a brighter future. A future where they might be together, where there is no prejudice and animosity between Chimera and Seraphim. A brighter future for all of Erez.

There's a battle, most definitely. There's a sort-of show-down between the main antagonist, and Karou and Akiva. However, this show-down felt somewhat anticlimactic and the ending felt too drawn out. Some will feel that the ending lacks finality, but in a way, the ending does open up to spin-off tales. I would be surprised if Laini didn't write more stories centered in Eretz. I appreciate that Taylor chose to address some of the issues in the aftermath of this show-down. Too many writers like to leave their story at "happily ever after", only to leave me with even more questions.

While this book isn't perfect, there's a magic to Laini Taylor's words. Dreams of Gods and Monsters was intense, beautiful,  and ethereal. Fans of the first two books, I believe, will be happy with this final installment. And if you haven't read this trilogy yet, I believe it is worth reading, if only for it's gorgeous writing.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Discussion: On Endings

Last year was met with a few disappointing endings to well-loved trilogies--specifically the Delirium and the Divergent trilogies. Both were met with disappointed responses from fans, and it got me thinking about what makes a ending "satisfying"? And is it right to hate a series you once loved, simply because the final book was disappointing?

To the second question, I think your opinion of the series can most certainly be shaped by the ending. Books, individually, can be ruined within the last 20 or so pages. I don't think that I will ever reread Divergent with the same mind-set, knowing what happens in Allegiant. In fact, I don't know if I will ever reread the trilogy. 

As a solitary book, I think Allegiant is weak and nowhere near as good as Divergent. As a series, though, I respect Roth's decision. In fact, I find the ending fitting. My issue with Allegiant is that the writing felt sloppy, I did not enjoy reading from Four's perspective, and the explanations given were weak and underdeveloped. The spoiler that has readers so upset? It doesn't upset me as much as I would imagine.

Requiem is another conclusion that was met with disappointment. Many people griped that it wasn't "enough". That there was more story to tell. I agree, but I can also see why Lauren Oliver chose to leave it open. 

Neither book, I noticed, has a "happily ever after" ending. I also noticed that both books were dystopians. The world of dystopian tales are bleak, and far from perfect. I would not want to live in the world of any dystopian book, and we aren't meant to. We're meant to fear those worlds, and to look at the world around us. I think this is why most dystopians (including The Hunger Games) have bittersweet endings. And I'm okay with that. In fact, I think that a happy ending would be a disservice to the genre. I also think it's why I was disappointed with Ignite Me (and most recently, The One).

It's also why I think so many other people loved it. 

We all want our main character to survive and be happy. We want everything loose end to be tied. We want to feel satisfied. Do you think, though, that dystopians should have happy endings? Do you prefer happily ever after endings, or bittersweet ones? We're all entitled to opinions, and I wanted to see if anyone else out there felt the same way. I feel like, regardless of how things turn out for characters in a series, there needs to be that ray of hope. People gripe about Mockingjay, and while its the weakest of the trilogy, I still love it and I am satisfied with how things ended. Bittersweet with a ray of hope.

People will disagree, I'm sure. I just wanted to voice my appreciation for books that don't always have satisfying endings, and the brave authors that listen to the voice of their characters instead of their readers. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Demand Our Stars: #TFIOSTN #TFIOSTOUR Recap

On Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending The Fault in Our Stars tour stop in Nashville. Stars of the film adaptation, and the author John Green, were expected to be in attendance. While I know there are many out there who haven't read the book, plenty have heard about it and acknowledge that it's been receiving massive hype. It's "the next big thing".

The impact of this book, and the excitement or young adult readers everywhere was on full display Thursday night.  When I arrived at the War Memorial courtyard, there were already tons of people already lined up, hoping for a chance to see the stars and hoping for a chance to sit in on the Q&A. Some had been camping out since midnight--that's commitment!

I think it's safe to say that I probably wouldn't have gotten inside that auditorium without my media pass. By pure chance, and by knowing certain people, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to greet the stars as they walked down the red carpet.

Here I am in front of the red carpet:

In the media pen, I met up with two blogger friends: Lauren and Shalena. We talked about the movie, and books in general (i.e. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn), while we waited for the red carpet show to start.

John Green, Shailene Woodley, and Ansel Elgort, and Nat Wolfe were expected to arrive at 6:30pm. My two friends, who were inside and waiting for the show to start, let me know that Nat was inside performing with his brother. Not going to lie--I kind of wish I had been there! And then finally, screams erupted around 7pm, signaling the arrival of John Green and the actors (they were late). John took the longest coming down the red carpet, as books and posters were being held out to be signed. He signed almost every thing set in front of him.

Then when John cam in front of the press pin, he stood in front of the backdrop and posed. How close was I? Very close!

Courtesy of Lauren, I have a picture of John Green and I:

I am still in shock that I met John Green. I didn't say anything to him, as everything was happening so fast, and he was trying to move things along. Still, it was thrilling, and I was amazed at the crowd's enthusiasm and excitement. Few authors would have received the fan fair that John Green experienced, and I couldn't help but think of how amazing it is that one author could bring so many people together. Even if Shailene, Ansel, and Nat weren't a part of the event, the turnout would still have been huge for John.

Next to come down the red carpet was Ansel Elgort. He was tall, and as charming as ever.

I just had to take a "selfie". My inner fangirl couldn't be denied, even if I tried to remain composed. Because I was part of the "Media" and I had to be "professional".  

Shailene Woodly followed, taking time to sign posters as she made her way down the carpet. She didn't pose for long, but I did get some pictures of her being interviewed.

Lastly (but not least), Nat Wolfe arrived to pose and be interviewed.

Now that all the stars were here, they proceeded to pose together for group photos.

Afterwards, John Green proceeded to sign more posters and books, while the other stars continued to be interviewed.

And as quickly as it started, the stars headed inside and the red carpet show was over. Dazed, but still excited, I headed up to the auditorium while a 10 minute clip played. It was a complication of scenes from the film. Scenes included the "egging" scene, the "okay" scene (which got a huge response front he crowd), and Gus chastising Hazel for wasting her "wish".  It made me that much more excited to see the film in its entirety.

Clint Redwine (DJ for local radio station and husband of author CJ Redwine) announced the stars of the night, and the Q&A began. I honestly do not remember many of the questions asked, but one of the highlights of the Q&A was when Ansel was asked if he had any hidden talents. And just like that, Ansel started to breakdance. Don't believe me?

Here's a pic (albeit blurry):

And a video that someone captured of the entire dance:

His dancing was accompanied by Nat's beatboxing. The stars also spent a great deal of time, showing their love and appreciation for John Green. "You are unprecedented" Shailene said. The crowd was so loud, that I almost worried my eardrums would pop. We learned about Trazel (a combination of Tris and Hazel) and we also learned about Jansel. And when someone asked John, "Who the F is Hank?" people in the crowd began making the nerd fighter sign. I don't know if the question was genuine, or intended to bring up VlogBrothers, DFTBA, and Nerdfighteria, but it was still awesome. And we learned that Shailene, Ansel, and Nat are now proud Nerd Fighters.

The stars talked about their favorite scenes, and what it was like to film in Amsterdam. As I watched these four answer questions, though, it was clear that these four had formed a rather unique and special bond. They hugged, they laughed, and they teased.

By 8pm, the Q&A was finished and the four heartily thanked everyone for coming. And while it the night was short-lived, it was spectacular, and I am every so grateful that I was a part of it.

As cliched as it sounds, it will be a night to remember.