Book Review: Perfect Ruin

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23658Lauren DeStefano’s Perfect Ruin (Book #1 of The Internment Chronicles) is a perfect combination of fantasy and allegory wrapped up with a beautiful Young Adult series bow. Destafano is already known for expert world-building, (as in her Chemical Garden series), but she takes it to a new level in her latest book.

Imagine a city on a hunk of land that floats high above the ground. A large dome protects the city from the atmosphere and creates a barrier between the population and the Edge. Trains run around the city to get people where they need to go, but they are also the dividing line between an orderly civilization and forbidden territory.

In a city where everyone and everything is controlled by an all powerful king, the concepts of individuality and free thought are virtually nonexistent. The government arranges marriages, dictates when babies can be born, assigns jobs and living quarters, and essentially brainwashes the entire population with a state religion and fictional history. Anyone who dares to think outside these boundaries is declared as “irrational” and subjected to therapy and medications, or worse.

Morgan has lived in the city her all her life and she knows the rules. The Edge is a dangerous place and there are serious consequences for even thinking about what lies on the ground. Still, her imagination often tries to picture the landscape and who might live there. Both her best friend, Pen, and betrothed partner, Basil, can see the danger of her daydreams, but they too share her curiosity. All can’t help but wonder if this one city is all there is in this life. The distant land below beckons as Morgan and her friends begin to question the life laid out by their government.

Perfect Ruin is a high concept story that digs deep into social and adolescent issues like independence, family, and self-discovery. At the same time, it is a compelling allegory that explores the folly of master societies and dictatorial states.

Verdict: Well worth reading.

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c.b.w. 2014

 

“A Life” Faces The Truth

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128618A Life by Guy de Maupassant is the story of a woman who grasps the reality that life is rarely fair. While the premise is nothing new in terms of storytelling, the way in which Maupassant approaches it is revolutionary.

The story begins with a young woman who is full of dreams and bright imaginings of her future. Unfortunately, her innocent fairy tale mentality clouds her perspective. When real life begins to unfold she feels the pain of crumbling fantasies as life deals her a few cruel blows and her choices further entrap her into an existence she never imagined for herself. As she approaches midlife, she becomes jaded and full of self-pity. It’s only when old age sets in that she starts to sift through the memories of life with a new eye. Instead of tragedy, she finds herself remembering only the joys.

The beauty of the novel lies in how Maupassant contrasts different views of life. There is always something influencing the character’s point of view – whether it be the innocence of youth, scorn of adulthood, or impending death, never does she view life in an unbiased mindset. In the process, Maupassant unveils the universal emotions we feel when faced with our own mortality.

One of Maupassant’s strengths is his ability to transform a rather simple story into something beautiful with well-crafted imagery and flowing prose. Lengthy descriptions of nature are used to represent the feelings, emotions, and rites of passage for the main character. Rather than explore these realms the old fashioned way through the mind of the character, he creates magnificent and sometimes haunting images of emotion with landscapes, water, and plantlife. These passages are often long and sometimes drag, but I was swept into them as soon as I viewed them as part of the character and not just insanely long descriptions.

The last line is where Maupassant dazzles with subtlety. Never does he end a story with everything tied up into a neat little package. There is room to wonder what happens next, while saying goodbye to the characters. For a novel that depicts the often unfair attributes of life, he manages to put it all in perspective with a perfectly balanced dose of optimism and pessimism.

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c.b.w. 2014

One YA Reader’s Desperate Plea

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I have a bone to pick with Young Adult authors. This has been burning a hole in my brain for quite some time, so I apologize in advance if I get a little persnickety. Here it goes …

WHY DO YOU FEEL THE NEED TO CHANGE THE POINT OF VIEW IN THE LAST BOOK OF A SERIES??????

Shouty capitals may seem rude and  uncalled for, but I’m down to my last nerve on this irritating literary trend. For the record, I’m not just asking this question as a reader, but also as a writer of YA Fantasy. Personally, I would never pull this trick on my readers as most of the time it isn’t necessary.

I should point out that the device of changing the point of view has always bothered me no matter the genre, but I’ve reached a new of level aggravation due to its use in several Young Adult series.  I don’t mind small instances of shifting points of view in a prologue  or epilogue, but my brain explodes when the concluding book in a series breaks a previously established point of view.  Why write an entire series from one point of view and then suddenly switch it up at the end? It makes no sense!

I’m a long time reader of multiple book series, mainly in the paranormal and fantasy divisions. Even though I’m an adult, I’m still a teenager at heart and I love YA books. The authors of these books deserve huge snaps for vivid and creative storytelling, but I’m finding myself more and more leery of picking up a new series because I fear what will happen with the last book of the series.  From some untold reason, this is when authors decide to rob me of my favorite characters!

My frustration apexed when my phobia of changing points of view kicked into gear twice over the last month. First, with Veronica Roth’s Divergent series and second with Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures series. Before I go on my rant, I do want to point out that these are very talented writers, I just happened to disagree with their tactics.

There are a number of reasons why Roth’s Divergent series is on my poop list, but my heart sank when I read the inside flap and found out Allegiant was written with a dual point of view. I decided to stick it out because I loved the first two books, but the sudden change in format really irked me for two reasons:

1. I loved the main character and didn’t like being pulled from her head.

2. A little critical thought on why Roth chose a dual point of view format gave away a major plot point. Before I was done reading the first chapter, I knew who was going to die. Cue my broken heart.

When I picked up the last book in my most recent favorite series, Beautiful Creatures, I was devastated to find it was divided into a dual perspective. What? Are you kidding me? I spend three books entrenched in the charming Ethan Wate’s head and you’re going to make me leave him? Not cool. Lena Duchannes might be one awesome chick, but she is more intriguing through Ethan’s eyes.

Even my favorite series of all time contains the dreaded change in point of view. Imagine my horror when I opened Twilight: Breaking Dawn and realized I was stuck in Jacob’s head instead of Bella’s. It was torture and I’m still mad I had to spend so much time with a character I detested. Stephenie Meyer, I love you, but why spend three books developing Bella’s point of view only to rip it away from your readers?

There are many more guilty series, but it all comes down to the same thing: Why change a good thing? When a series progresses with each book written in one point of view, it’s only logical to retain the same point of view through the last book. After two or three books with one character, readers stick around because of love for the character and a relationship of trust with that character’s perspective. When the last book shifts into someone else’s head it fractures the reader/character dynamic.

While fiction writing is all about trying new things and shaking up reality, there is something to be said for maintaining a sense of order within a series. Let me walk through the story by the side of a character I’ve come to know and love. Please don’t force me to wonder what she’s thinking as her story comes to a close. Readers deserve to complete the journey in the same way it began. Anything less feels like betrayal.

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c.b.w. 2014

10 Great Christmas Books

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Every year the bookstore clears a space for Christmas themed books. Some are sappy stories or romance novels, while others are the classics that stand the test of time. I can’t remember the last time I bought a Christmas book, but I do remember my favorite Christmas reads.

The books I read as a child still bring a smile to my face as they are still wonderful stories. I can still hear my Grandma reading the Tale of the Christmas Mouse and I will always love the Grinch. However, as an adult, my voracious need to read finally motivated me to read Dickens’ iconic tale along with historical accounts of the origins of Christmas.

My DVD shelf is loaded with a ridiculous number of Christmas movies, but this year I think I’m going to settle into the couch with a stack of my favorite Christmas books. The thin books worn by years of use will bring back memories of believing in Santa, while those thick with pages will give me something to contemplate by the light of my Christmas tree.

10 Great Christmas Books

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

I’ll admit I didn’t read this book until I was in my 30s. Dickens has never been among my favorite writers, but A Christmas Carol is absolutely fantastic. Surprisingly, it is far more intense than most film adaptations.

Tale of the Christmas Mouse by Judith Fringuello

This adorable little book is now out of print, but there are plenty of copies hanging out in the secondary market, (and it should not be mistaken for A Christmas Mouse by Anne Mortimer). My Grandma read this book to my sister and I every year. A little boy tells the story of a mouse who lives under the floorboards of his house. The mouse gets the house ready for Santa’s arrival by cleaning up and trimming the tree. Too cute!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

Who doesn’t love that scrunched up face and those grumpy eyes? The flamboyant language of Dr. Seuss and the heartwarming story of a crabby hermit who discovers the joy of Christmas makes this classic a must read.

Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

When I was a little girl, my Grandma made a recording of herself reading this poem. She used jingle bells to tell us when to turn the page and she made thumping sounds for the reindeer hooves. This poem along with my Grandma’s spirited version made me believe in Santa.

The Battle for Christmas by Steven Nissenbaum

I first read this book in college and was fascinated right from the first page. Nissenbaum traces the earliest origins of Christmas traditions and investigates how the holiday has transformed over time. Written with an emphasis on social history, it focuses on how people celebrated in the past and how traditions developed into what they are today.

The Origins of Christmas by Joseph F. Kelly

What’s Christmas without a little debate? In opposition to Nissenbaum’s social history approach, Kelly traces the history of Christmas from a Biblical standpoint. Between the two books, readers walk away with much to contemplate.

The Smurf’s Christmas by Peyo (Graphic Novel)

Anything with a retro Smurf has my stamp of approval. As Christmas approaches, Gargamel is lurking with his latest evil plan. Along with Gargemel, snow, fun, dragons, and surprises surround the Smurf village as they “smurf” to save Christmas.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Robert May (author) and Denver Gillen (illustrator)

While the TV special is cute, try reading the original story. It’s just as heartwarming and special.

Frosty the Snowman by Diane Muldrow and Golden Books

Based on the TV special, this cute little book covers the story from to finish – right down to that ridiculous hat!

A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles M. Schulz

Anyone who searches the tree lot for a Charlie Brown Christmas tree knows the the warmth and joy of this wonderful story. If you missed the televised special, this book will more than make up for it.

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Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!

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c.b.w. 2013

30 Reads Went Fast!

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When I signed up for the Goodreads 2013 Reading Challenge, I expected it to play out much like 2012. I would start out strong  by reading one book every week or two, but then summer would hit and all my time would be devoted to writing (and crafts). By the time fall hit, I’d slowly get back into the swing of things, but not fast enough to avoid a December scramble to reach my reading goals. Whew! Now that I’ve written it out, I can’t believe I put myself through this every year!

To my great surprise, 2013 turned out to be quite different from my usual reading year. On October 13th, I officially completed my goal of reading 30 books.

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An incredibly lucky streak of fantastic books prevented the summer lull from taking hold and I suspect the extra time afforded to me thanks to having a student teacher had something to do with it as well.

Some of my favorite books this year include:

The Maisie Dobbs Series

A feisty, smart, and compassionate female lead sits at the heart of this series. Set in post WWI London, historical fiction has never been more engaging with interesting (and highly accurate) insights into the culture of the time. As a mystery series, Maisie Dobbs never fails to offer up unorthodox cases of intrigue that always tie to the evolution of the main character. All 10 books are unputdownable!

Original Bliss by A.L. Kennedy

A subtle, sparsely written novel about two disillusioned people who find comfort in one another. As their impossible relationship flourishes, they find reasons to feel alive, again. A truly remarkable read.

Divergent (Series) by Veronica Roth

Easily one of the best Young Adult series I’ve read in a long time. Roth’s wholly original take on the concepts of free will and choice pushes these ideas to a new level. Her apocalyptic world of a faction-based society poses powerful questions about government, society, and truth.  Anything that challenges young people to question perception and think for themselves is well worth reading!

Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins

Rather than write another biography about Jane Austen’s life, the authors of this book instead pick apart the world she lived in. Meticulous research of primary sources reveals incredible details about marriage, childbearing, childhood, work, religion, healthcare, clothing, and death in the early 19th century.

Gabriel’s Inferno (Series) by Sylvain Reynard

The fact that this is a romance novel with an intellectual edge makes this guilty pleasure one of my favorite books. Thematic references and quotes from Dante’s The Inferno  are brilliantly linked to both the story and characters. In many respects, it is refreshing to read a romance novel that works both the brain and the heart.

The Odd Sea by Frederick Reiken

Don’t let the minimalist style fool you. Reiken’s tale of a family coping with the tragedy of a missing son is a highly emotional and powerful read. Grief is explored from multiple angles and the ending invites serious contemplation.

Even though I’ve reached my 30, I’m still reading. My lucky streak of good books is still going strong and I have the additional goal of reading 2 more non-fiction books about writing and/or the publishing industry.

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How’s your reading life?

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c.b.w. 2013