The Summer of Reading, Part 2

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My Summer of Reading continues with the second half of book reviews from my stack of read books, (see The Summer of Reading for the first half).

This half is mostly YA fantasy (both urban and dystopian), but I also managed to squeeze in some non-fiction and Japanese and Czech literature.

Stars Above (The Lunar Chronicles, #4.5) by Marissa Meyer

A nice little collection of short stories that offer a little more insight into familiar characters from the Lunar Chronicles series. The first half fills in some of the gaps on Cinder’s origins and Jacin and Winter’s relationship. The back half provides more happy endings for characters that deserve them the most. Those who ship Scarlet/Wolf and Cinder/Kai will be thrilled! However, my favorite story involves a switched perspective on Kai and Cinder’s first meeting. I loved seeing that moment from his eyes. While not required reading for the series, it’s a nice fluffy read for those who just can’t get enough of the Lunar Chronicles’ world.

Haven (Winterhaven #1) by Kristi Cook

Violet arrives at Winterhaven eager for a new start in a new place where no one knows she’s a “freak.” She’s a strong and relatable character until she meet Aidan Gray, who turns her into a mushy pile of young love. Aidan is the school hottie that predictably ignores every girl except Violet. While I love a good love story, this one is a bit too melodramatic for my taste and I can’t quite figure out what makes this couple tick aside from physical attraction. On the more interesting side of things, Winterhaven is a school exclusively for students with special gifts like telekinesis, precognition, telepathy, etc. as well as supernatural beings like werewolves and vampires (shocked? Yeah, I wasn’t either). While this borders on the predictable, once again, Cook does shake things up by looking at vampirism as disease that can be cured. The scientific descriptions are fascinating and I would have liked to see that as a stronger storyline.

This is one of those books that starts out really strong, but then unravels for me mainly because I read A LOT of YA urban fantasy. In an increasingly crowded field, it’s tough to find a wholly original story. While I enjoyed the characters and writing style, I kept finding myself thinking I’d read pieces of it before (part Fallen, part Twilight, etc.).

Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto

Like most of Banana Yoshimoto’s work, Goodbye Tsunami is deceptively sparse in terms of style and storyline. The true power of it doesn’t hit until the last page. Maria is on the cusp of adulthood – that moment when everything familiar and comfortable dramatically shifts to something different. Moving away from the hometown, leaving family and friends, and essentially starting something new stirs wildly contradictory, yet subtle emotions. Likewise, her cousin, Tsugumi is facing similar change but with a drastically different perspective. She, too, finds herself in transition as her family prepares to move to a new place. However, she is chronically ill and has no true independence, (not to mention a truly horrific personality). Instead of feeling the contradiction of excitement and sadness, as Maria does, she struggles with the bitterness of never truly being able to move on to new and exciting things. Her life is simply about waiting for the end while she watches Maria move towards a bright future. What binds them together is the shared experience of childhood and the memories they hold between them. The contrast of these characters is unified into a unique parable about the transience of life and how nothing really ever stays the same.

Slowness by Milan Kundera

We move much too fast it seems. Too fast to make lasting, meaningful memories (or to purposely forget moments of regret). Too fast to truly enjoy the pleasures of life. At least that’s what the narrator of this playful novel tries so hard to convey. In making his point, the stories of multiple characters exemplify how the speedy pursuit of power and/or pleasure completely defeats the point of both. Those after power are constantly putting on a show that plays upon the gullibility of those around them and the fast moving media. Power is fleeting and built on nothing more than acceptance of a lie. Those after pleasure engage in a similar type of showmanship and experience the same emptiness, but from intimacy gained without patience. Pleasure is short-lived and easily forgotten as the next conquest falls into view. A sprawling allegory that draws upon the past and the present, there is much to consider in how pleasure in particular is often taken for granted.

Ironically, I read this book in about three hours, which means I fell right into Kundera’s delightful little trap.

The Selection by Kiera Cass

The prince needs a wife, so the only logical solution is to recreate a reality dating show, right? This premise is what made me shy away from this series at first, but I’m glad I picked it up. In a world divided into socioeconomic castes, America pretty much has her life figured out. She’s in love with a boy in a caste below hers, but she’s certain she can work her way around that problem and marry him. However, that all changes when the royal family sends out applications for the Selection to find the prince a wife. Her participation in the Selection would mean a financial windfall for her struggling family, but America resists on the basis of her own principles and her love for Aspen. However, when Aspen inexplicably dumps her, America reluctantly finds herself in the midst of the Selection. What she finds is unexpected as she navigates the palace and holds her own in a competition between her and 34 other girls. Never in a million years did she expect the prince to be quite so charming and easy to talk to. While this is a sweet love story, it is also sharp commentary on class divisions, identity, and discrimination.

The Brain: The Story of You by David Eagleman

A fascinating overview of neuroscience regarding basic brain function, decision making, memory, individuality, and socialization. For a layperson, such as myself, this was a readable and entertaining look at a very complicated topic (at least its always felt that way to me!). Having watched the PBS series of the same title, I liked being able to revisit the content of the series in print. It gave me more time to process the information and consider the broader implications of theories and basic principles.

The Elite (Selection #2) by Kiera Cass

The competition continues as six girls remain to vie for Prince Maxon. While Maxon has essentially already made his choice, America finds herself torn. Still hung up on her ex-boyfriend (who just so happens to be a guard at the palace), America spends a lot of time questioning her feelings and what she really wants. Meanwhile, Maxon has the patience of a saint while she strings him along. America is a strong girl, but her fatal fatal flaw is a devastating case of self-doubt. As the privileges and responsibilities of becoming a member of the royal family become more clear, America isn’t just choosing between two boys, but rather between two very different lives. She could be the princess that carries the weight of leadership or the ordinary citizen that goes with the flow. While the story moves a bit slower in this volume, America’s character continues to experience growing pains that are very relevant and relatable despite the dystopian theme.

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c.b.w. 2017

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