September 1st, 2013

The Elite by Kiera Cass; Review
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by Madeleine Rex

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Title: The Elite

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Author: Kiera Cass

Published: April, 2013

Number of Pages: 323

Rating: 5/5

Synopsis:

The hotly-anticipated sequel to the New York Times bestseller The Selection.

Thirty-five girls came to the palace to compete in the Selection. All but six have been sent home. And only one will get to marry Prince Maxon and be crowned princess of Illea.

America still isn’t sure where her heart lies. When she’s with Maxon, she’s swept up in their new and breathless romance, and can’t dream of being with anyone else. But whenever she sees Aspen standing guard around the palace, and is overcome with memories of the life they planned to share. With the group narrowed down to the Elite, the other girls are even more determined to win Maxon over—and time is running out for America to decide.

Just when America is sure she’s made her choice, a devastating loss makes her question everything again. And while she’s struggling to imagine her future, the violent rebels that are determined to overthrow the monarchy are growing stronger and their plans could destroy her chance at any kind of happy ending. [From Goodreads

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Quote:

It’s the most wonderful and terrible thing that can ever happen to you… You know that you’ve found something amazing, and you want to hold on to it forever; and every second after you have it, you fear the moment you might lose it…

Love is beautiful fear.

Review:

I love this series so much. It’s a “light” read, but there’s more than meets the eye. The fun of the Bachelor/Cinderella story is balanced by the more serious nature of the dystopian world and the mounting “dissatisfaction” with the monarchy therein. The Selection (Review

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) set the stage for this, but The Elite takes the hints and whispers of a near uprising and turns them into violent acts and riots. The climax is on its way, and for that reason, I can’t stand the idea of waiting till May 2014 for the final book in the trilogy.

Of course, if you’re not into the social commentary side of things, there’s still much to have fun with in The Elite. However, as most second installments are, this book is riddled with trouble and conflict, all in preparation for what I’m sure will be a fantastically stressful climax.

With conflict comes irritation, in my opinion. There’s no way that every character can handle conflict gracefully (or even rationally), so it’s inevitable that some become a nuisance. The cast of The Elite is no exception. I found that America dug her hole deeper and deeper as the book progressed, particularly in the ever-maddening love triangle area, but, as usual, she proves that her integrity can’t be shaken so easily and that, despite her mistakes, she intends to make things right.

In fact, America’s development is one of the most exciting elements of the book. As she becomes more and more aware of the strife that strains her country, she is simultaneously forced to consider the idea of becoming the princess and being in a position of power. The combination of the two means that she has the potential to do great things for Ilea, but America soon realizes that being princess (or prince) does not guarantee the freedom to do what one believes is right. It may mean sacrificing her beliefs and idly standing by as people are taken advantage of – whatever it takes to have the favor of the King.

Did I say I was going to talk about the “fun,” lighthearted stuff? Sorry. Haha.

There is a lot to be found in the pages of this book. The challenge to win over Prince Maxon continues, but only a handful of girls remain. Every girl steps up her game, perfecting her strategies, and, because of the nature of the competition, this is always at another girl’s expense. So, of course, there are ample opportunities for drama.

However, as many of you know, that sort of drama is less fun and more torturous for this wordbird. Yet, I can’t resist a complicated love story. What girl doesn’t like to watch the development of a relationship, against all odds? I’m Team Maxon all the way, and although I couldn’t stand the stressful moments in their relationship, I mean “couldn’t stand” in the most ridiculous, girlish way, which translates into: I had so much fun.

So, yes, this series brings out the silly girlishness in me, but it can appeal to people looking for “heavier stuff.” I appreciate that they’re easy reads, but I always enjoy a more serious aspect, and The Elite supplies both. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a fast-paced read that combines lighthearted fun with a thought-provoking dystopian world.

P.S. I finally claimed Wordbird on BlogLovin’. Check it out! Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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August 19th, 2013

The Selection by Kiera Cass; Review
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by Madeleine Rex

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Title: The Selection

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Author: Kiera Cass

Published: April, 2012

Number of Pages: 327

Rating: 5/5

Synopsis:

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined. [From Goodreads

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Quote:

If you don’t want me to be in love with you, you’re going to have to stop looking so lovely. First thing tomorrow I’m having your maids sew some potato sacks together for you.

Review:

This is the most enjoyable YA book I’ve read in a long time. I missed that feeling of urgency you get when a book excites you so much that you just cannot wait to know what happens. You can’t read fast enough, and you wish you could just “inhale” the book and have it over with. The Selection gave me that feeling. It’s not a literary masterpiece, it’s not a Pulitzer prizewinner, but it’s fun, it’s well written, and I’m so glad I read it.

America Singer is a very likable character. I know people say that all the time. What does it mean? In this case, it means that I always understood her motivation, admired her morality, and found her funny, quirky, and very real. I would want her as a friend, particularly if I were a part of The Selection. Her loyalty and willingness to be herself are the qualities I admire most, as they’re ones I hope to develop. They, along with her sense of humor, are what make her stand out in The Selection, and standing out is hard to do when you’re up against 34 beautiful women, most of whom have more money, better looks, and higher rank than you.

Though the Bachelor-meets-Cinderella element is fun, the most intriguing aspect of the book is Illea, the country that consists of what was once the United States and Canada. Within Illea is an eight-caste system, the details of which have been posted on Kiera Cass’s website, here

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. This system is both fascinating and disturbing, and America’s situation (spotty employment, hardly enough food, etc.) as a Five makes the dysfunction of Illean society evident, though I wish the hardships of her life had been discussed in more detail. It isn’t long before she’s the only five left in the competition. The tension surrounding the caste system, not to mention the frequent rebel attacks and the many clues that there is more behind the rebels’ anger than meets the eye, provides the book with a seriousness and gravity that it would otherwise lack.

One of the most controversial elements to the caste system is the way it limits interaction. There is no way a Five would ever interact with a One, let alone a member of the royal family, as anything more than a nameless employee – if it weren’t for The Selection. Similarly, very few people marry below their caste, and America’s mom would never hear of it. However, America has fallen in love with a Six, Aspen, and has met with him as often as possible – past curfew – for years. This forbidden love becomes more of a problem when she is selected and even more of a problem when America must reluctantly admit to herself that Prince Maxon is not the stuck-up jerk she expected him to be.

In other words, yes, there’s a love triangle.

I’ve made my feelings about love triangles quite clear, and I’ll admit that this is the most frustrating part of the series for me. I’m Team Maxon all the way, and my silly anxiety over who America will choose is eating away at me. However, this love triangle is less maddening than some, as America seems to have greater control over her heart and senses than many female YA protagonists, and for that, I’m grateful.

Overall, The Selection is addictive, entertaining, and a delightful addition to the world of dystopian YA. It’s a fairy tale in a dystopian world, and what could be more fun than that?

P.S. I finally claimed Wordbird on BlogLovin’. Check it out! Follow my blog with Bloglovin

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August 10th, 2013

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick; Review
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by Madeleine Rex

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Title: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

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Author: Matthew Quick

Published: August 13, 2013

Number of Pages: 273

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis:

In addition to the P-38, there are four gifts, one for each of my friends. I want to say good-bye to them properly. I want to give them each something to remember me by. To let them know I really cared about them and I’m sorry I couldn’t be more than I was—that I couldn’t stick around—and that what’s going to happen today isn’t their fault.

Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

In this riveting book, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out. [From Goodreads

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Official Review Sent to Little Brown:

Matthew Quick’s third Young Adult novel, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, is tough to swallow, but it deals with difficult topics that need addressing. Quick heard Leonard’s voice asking to have its story told and has done so with magnificent skill, creating a book full of confusion and chaos and neglect, but never hopelessness. If there’s any one moral to Leonard’s story, it’s that the world is a dark place, but good people can be beacons of light, and in the end, light penetrates the darkness.

Review:

I finished this book approximately three minutes ago.

It’s still moving through me, circulating in my veins, soaking into my mind, making it fuzzy and stuck half-way in reality, half-out.

I have other things that need doing right now, but I feel the need to review this book while it’s still coursing through me.

I’m not sure how I feel about Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock. It’s not my favorite of Matthew Quick’s books, it’s not the most enjoyable – in fact, it often made me uncomfortable – but the things is: That’s the point. This book isn’t a generally happy book. It deals with uncomfortable topics. Tough things. Abuse, neglect, depression. These are things we don’t like to spend too much time thinking about, but Leonard Peacock reminded me of what I already knew was true but had forgotten: there are people who don’t get to choose whether or not they have to think about these things, and it’s crucial that we don’t forget those people. That we don’t turn a blind eye to what makes us uncomfortable simply because it’s hard.

Leonard’s mother, Linda, was the beautiful yet tragic personification of the phrase “turning a blind eye.” Her inability to focus on Leonard, her eagerness to see what she wanted to see, or what was easiest to process, wasn’t just absurd. It was sad. I’m still saddened by the idea that she will never appreciate her boy for what he has withstood. As Leonard says at one point, she’s missing out.

So, like I said, this book is hard. There’s a profuse amount of f-words and gruesome images, but, however much I disliked them, I came to realize that they are a part of who Leonard Peacock is, for now, and that because I came to love him, I could deal with them.

I have no doubt that some people will be turned off quite quickly by Leonard’s depression and “angst,” but there’s a reason for his angst. It’s not like his prom date stood him up, or he didn’t get a car for his eighteenth birthday. Leonard is lost, and Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is the story of his realizing that being lost is not the end of the world, that finding his place in the world may take time but that it – his place – is out there somewhere, and he’s the only one who can fill it.

That hope, that optimism, is the light in a dark book. Matthew Quick, who I’ve respected and admired since his first YA book, Sorta Like a Rockstar (here’s the review

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and an interview
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he graciously participated in later), has written yet another magnificent, one-of-a-kind book. I think that’s what I love most about his books. There is nothing quite like them. They aren’t even particularly like each other. And that’s how you know that his characters are telling their stories, as opposed to him spinning tales of his own. Matthew has managed, yet again, to hear the voice of a character with a story that needed telling and to take it upon himself to tell it.

So, whether or not the book made me uncomfortable at times, whether or not I ever read it again (I’m not sure I could handle it), I appreciate it for its honesty, its bluntness, and its message. As Gandalf would say, “Not all those who wander are lost,” and I think that’s what Leonard is trying to figure out.

Ultimately, I came to love Leonard. At first, I pitied him. Now, I still feel sorry for him because of what he’s been forced to deal with, but I admire him. As his few, true friends know, he has a light in him that shines into the dark world. He has the potential, and, even more importantly, the desire (whether he admits it to himself or not) to make people happy, and what’s pitiful about that? Nothing.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a chaotic book. It throws your emotions right and left and swings them back and forth, but it teaches without being preachy. It’s full of dark things, but lovely things are sprinkled in between, like Humphrey Bogart films and Hamlet and banana chocolate-chip pancakes. It’s bittersweet, but so is life, and I think that’s the point.

So, thank you Little Brown, for the galley, and thank you Matthew Quick, for listening to the voices in your head that need to have their stories told, and for telling them.

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