Archive for August, 2013

August 19th, 2013

The Selection by Kiera Cass; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: The Selection

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]

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. 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

August 10th, 2013

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick; Review

by Madeleine Rex

Title: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

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]

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 and an interview 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.

August 2nd, 2013

WDJKRD?

by Madeleine Rex

So, What Did J.K. Rowling Do?

Until July 14th, I, and most people I know, had never heard of The Cuckoo’s Calling. Now, most of us own a copy and are reading it as quickly as we can. The revelation that J.K. Rowling is the author behind the pseudonym Robert Galbraith certainly shook up the world of books.

The reviews on the back of the book, written before the leak, are hilarious. It seems some of the reviewers were psychic. Mark Billingham says, “Cormoran Strike is an amazing creation and I can’t wait for his next outing. Strike is so instantly compelling that it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel…” Mike Cooper couldn’t have known how true his last sentence is, “Robert Galbraith’s debut is as hardbitten and hard-driving as its battered hero. CUCKOO’S CALLING scales the glittering heights of society even as it plumbs the dark depths of the human heart. A riveting read from an author to watch.”

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with all the news, the leak was the friend of the wife of Rowling’s lawyer. The woman, Judith Callegari, posted the author’s true identity on Twitter. In a statement, Rowling expressed her anger at having been outed as The Cuckoo’s Calling‘s real author:

“To say that I am disappointed is an understatement. I had assumed that I could expect total confidentiality from Russells, a reputable professional firm, and I feel very angry that my trust turned out to be misplaced.”

Needless to say, I’m glad I’m not Judith Callegari or Rowling’s (former) lawyer. How could you ever live down betraying the woman who created Harry Potter? Talk about shame. And public humiliation. You can read more about Rowling’s statement, as well as the law firm’s pathetic attempt to save-face, here.

But I think the real question is: Why the charade? Publishing under the pseudonym resulted in sales that were microscopic in comparison to what Rowling could have gotten. Approximately 1500 copies of the book sold between April and mid-July. Since then, it’s risen to the top of every best-sellers list I’ve looked at.

Rowling insists that she was enjoying the anonymity, and it doesn’t seem as though she ever intended to announce her authorship, which is what fascinates me most. The pseudonym allowed her to prove that she could receive critical acclaim without her name slapped onto the front of her book. Though The Cuckoo’s Calling wasn’t selling all that well, the reviewers liked it. No one can say Robert Galbraith wouldn’t have found his way to best-seller-dom with book two or three or four. Maybe Rowling didn’t mind the idea of biding her time – after all, she doesn’t need the money.

The Guardian article, “JK Rowling tells story of alter ego Robert Galbraith,” goes into detail regarding Rowling’s motivations. I can’t help but wonder how long she thought she could keep it up. Beyond the first book, no doubt, but she’s so well known that I can’t believe her secret could have remained a secret forever.

All the same, it’s a shame she didn’t get to reveal her identity on her own terms.

Even more shameful is what this whole scenario says about first-time authors. Despite solid reviews, The Cuckoo’s Calling wasn’t flying off the shelves. I’d never heard of it before, and I work in a book store. What does this say, then, about readers? What does it take for us to open a book and take a chance on something? I wish I could say I’d bought The Cuckoo’s Calling before I’d known who the author was. I wish I was a fan of Robert Galbraith’s and J.K. Rowling’s. Considering I haven’t read much crime fiction, there’s a good chance I’d have never picked up this book without knowing the truth of its authorship.

This saddens me. I’m reading the book now, and though I’m at the beginning, I can see that it is a great piece of fiction. Its tone is dry yet detailed. The characterization is remarkable and the premise unusual. The humor is clever and often grim (yes, grim humor). I would not know any of this if Judith Callegari hadn’t tweeted J.K. Rowling’s secret. Yet another Guardian article highlights the negative repercussions of Rowling’s “ruse” and the skewed views of the book world, which you can read here.

Whatever Rowling’s motivations and expectations, one thing is undeniable: We’ll be seeing a lot of Robert Galbraith in the future. And I, personally, am happy about that. If you’re as interested as I am in this whole pseudonym thing, check out this post on Barnes and Noble’s Book Blog, “5 Authors Who Used Pseudonyms.” It quite cleverly points out that J.K. Rowling has always used pseudonyms, her real name being Joanne Rowling.

Whatever you think of all this drama, I heartily recommend The Cuckoo’s Calling. If you’ve read it, what did you think of it?